Skip to: Navigation | Content | Sidebar | Footer

Weblog Entry

Inaccessible Site Demonstration

August 13, 2003

Sooner or later you’ll find yourself wondering what the difference is between an accessible web site and one that isn’t.

The UK Disability Rights Commission has a fantastic demonstration of just a few things that can cause major problems for even the slightly disabled, and I’d highly recommend checking it out as soon as you have a moment. Three short Flash demonstrations require no more than 3 or 4 minutes, and only one actually pertains to screen readers.

(Thanks to Keith Bell and Accessify for bringing this to my attention.)

Reader Comments

August 13, 01h


Great link Dave. Also quite unnerving how easy it is to design from your own perspective. Even if you do allow for accessibility. Judging a site because you like it is one thing, liking it because it works, despite your disabilities, is whole different ball game.
The DRC’s demonstration is also like walking around with a blindfold for a day so that you can pretend to know what it’s like, or how about one of those strap-on pregnancy bellies. In the end you gain merely a slither of understanding of what it’s like.

Dave S. says:
August 13, 01h

The screen reader demo is what really got to me. I sat here with my hands on the keys, looking out the window thinking, “okay, technically, I am navigating this page… but my god, is this really what they have to put up with? I wouldn’t even bother.”

It would be nice if schools teaching the web would set aside a few sessions for their designers to watch people of varying disabilities struggle their way through existing sites. There’s only so far words can take you, it’s actual demonstrations like this that clue you in to the relevant issues.

August 13, 01h

Thank you for the link, it was very insightful. And hilarious, but that would have been laughing away my shame.

MikeyC says:
August 13, 03h

How fitting that a demonstration on inaccessibility is done in Flash ;)

Owen says:
August 13, 10h

This is great! A quick and easy tool we can turn to when trying to explain to anyone (the curious, the client, the CEO) some of the problems people with disabilities encounter on the Web and why our sites should be accessible. Even the accessible design looks OK!

Bob says:
August 13, 11h

I had a hard enough time trying to find the items with the original design WITHOUT the flying cursor, blurred screen, etc. The colors on the original design all run together for me, and that damned 4pt. text that the kids find so cool today made it impossible to read.

August 14, 02h

The key is not convincing CEO/Marketing Manager that the website is inaccessible, the trouble is convincing them that “those people” (as they often refer to them) are worth reaching. Personally I think “they” are, but this is a tough sell to most people who have made their way to the top. It’s never a “yeah, accessibility is just a decent thing to do” its, “do you have any stats on how many blind people use the web.” Sad.

To people with disabilities, speak up! Please, we (developers/designers) want to help you, but you need to make it clear to the marketing wonks that you are a potential customer. We try and try, but they just don’t believe us.

redux says:
August 14, 03h

“The key is not convincing CEO/Marketing Manager that the website is inaccessible, the trouble is convincing them that “those people” (as they often refer to them) are worth reaching”

that’s why i think legislation such as the Disabilities Discrimination Act (for the UK … and - wherever applicable - equivalent legislation in other countries) are a good thing. it makes convincing the higher-ups a lot easier if you say “you’re breaking the law, and we could face a potentially expensive and damaging (PR wise) law suit”…

August 14, 03h

US Courts have already ruled that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not apply to web sites. They did not meet the legal definition of “public place” because the court does not consider them a “place”.

I’m not really sure which side I agree with. I would like to see some legally compelling reason to make sites accessible. On the other hand I would not want myself or a client to get sued because I forgot an alt tag or didn’t make perfectly valid code.

I think the best solution all around would be for a disabilities organization to lobby large sites (in a constructive manner) to increase accessibility. I know some have approval or certification programs, but these are always construed more as businesses than vehicles of social change.

redux says:
August 14, 03h

although the screenreader demonstration was meant to ram the point home, i think it should be noted that software such as JAWS provides a selection of far more sophisticated methods for moving around a site than the simple previous-link/next-link method that was simulated, e.g. list all links (which you can then sort and rearrange by different criteria), list all heading, move to next heading at same level, move to first form field (in a form, obviously), etc
of course, this is not a substitute for accessibly designed and structured webpages…i just wanted to ensure that people here don’t think that all screenreaders do is let you tab between links and read out what’s there… ;)

redux says:
August 14, 03h

“How fitting that a demonstration on inaccessibility is done in Flash ;”

the fact that it’s in flash in not the problem (as it needs to be a simulation of how different users may perceive a site, there really is no way around using something like flash/shockwave/java)…the fact that there is no londesc (e.g. “this flash movie simulates how a user with a mobility impairment, having difficulty using a mouse, may experience the inaccessible demonstration site. mouse movements within this flash movie are exagerated, increasing the difficulty for the user to accurately position the mouse pointer over a link to select it…” or something like that)

redux says:
August 14, 06h

well, apparently the DDA (following the publication of a governmental code of practice) does now seem to officially apply to web sites/services in the UK (although we’re still “anxiously” awaiting a test case). thing is, in most - if not all - cases, any dispute won’t automatically result in a hefty fine or even a court case. there will be a chance to make reasonable changes to a site in order to avoid a case ever being followed through. even in the famous Sydney Olympics case (SOCOG) the organising committee had the chance to change their site to ensure at least a baseline level of accessibility. however, because of budget and time considerations (as the lifespan of the site was pretty much limited to the duration of the games), they decided not to make the changes and instead simply pay the fine and be done with it…

Nic says:
August 14, 09h

FWIW, I personally am against the “try it for a day” approach to disability awareness… Some studies (don’t have them handy, but can find if anyone is interested) show that instead of opening minds to the various disability experience, it creates a bit of a “poor them” attitude. As Dave said: “but my god, is this really what they have to put up with?”.

As redux pointed out, real screen readers offer more options, and a person using this software day in/day out will have a familiarity with it that can blow your mind (a friend of mine has his set on such a rapid read rate that I can’t figure out what’s said, but he’s not missing a thing).

While sitting in a wheelchair and having to deal with sidewalks, steps, etc can give you a very faint idea, you cannot experience the “real thing” with just sitting in the chair a few times. Heck, I have *fun* wheeling around (especially with my new wheels ). It’s not dreary and desperate all the time. It’s just one more aspect of my life.

So it is difficult for someone not having a disability to really judge what it’s like, and a momentary thing can only give you a glimpse.

The site is good in that it gives an idea of a barrier. But remember, don’t judge the whole thing based on your perception of it. You don’t have the day to day experience, you haven’t developped your own “hacks” to handle situations.

I’m not saying not to build accessible… Just pointing out you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg

at says:
August 18, 03h

“Your task: find the link for information about this week’s top selling CDs.”
And now try this on the accessible page …

Isofarro says:
August 18, 03h

In reply to Eric Savage, some clarification is in order. One case in the US District Court has said that ADA does not apply to websites. This particular case is pending an appeal. There is another District Court case where websites have been ruled within scope of the ADA - this is the MARTA case which happened simultaneously to the Southwest Airlines case. The rulings are contradictory, but it is expected that the appeal to a higher court will establish that ADA does indeed apply to websites. I’ve detailled these cases here:

H says:
August 18, 04h

Great for demonstration purposes….but….

With the blurry option: (

“Your task: find the link to sign up to an email newsletter.”

….now try the same task in the “Accessible” version….

Call me a Rubenesque Waffle Whacker, but I found both propositions equally tough…perhaps a need for review?