Why Accessibility? Because It’s Our Job!

I go through phases of complacency and disbelief when thinking about web accessibility.

Working at SitePoint HQ, I’m fairly lucky in that everybody here is on the same page when it comes to accessibility; we spend time making sure our sites are accessible, that our applications degrade gracefully, that our JavaScript doesn’t create barriers for screenreader users. We do this ad-hoc, without even a firm sense of whether our target demographic ultimately requires it. And for no reason other than it’s our job. In the books, articles and other content we publish, best practice is right at the top of the priorities list.

But not everyone in our community agrees, as the original forum thread over the Target case and the recent catfight on TechCrunch illustrated. And I think that’s pretty sad — not because these folks are disagreeing per se (I’d rather see healthy debate than tacit compliance), but because so many of the anti-accessibility arguments are ignorant rhetoric, which cloud the issue and make useful discussion harder for everyone. They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly American line in favour of market forces determining everything, and criticizing any idealistic intentions as political-correctness gone mad.

Whatever. I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of that particular case; it’s an issue that cuts very deeply to the heart of what we think of as our “rights”, and that’s one can of worms I just don’t want to open. I know what I think; you know what you think; enough said.

But I am going to take this opportunity to re-inforce what I believe is the nature of our professionalism. We should make an effort to create accessible content, Anonymous, because it’s part of our job. And frankly, it doesn’t take much effort; it’s not difficult.

Nobody’s expecting perfection. Nobody in their right mind ascends to the notion that everyone is equal, or that life is fair. People aren’t equal, and life isn’t fair. But that makes it even more important that we attempt to redress imbalances when we encounter them.

What we do is not rocket science — I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s not spectacularly difficult either. HTML was designed with accessibility in mind, and it provides the hooks and meta-information to make content more accessible: alt text for images; caption, summary and headers for tables; good heading structure; semantic use of paragraphs, lists and other structural markup. Used properly, our tools will do the job. Used badly, they create barriers.

And technology is the one area of human endeavour where that simply isn’t acceptable. Technology is not like the physical world, where there are good, tangible reasons why some things can never be accessible. A person who’s blind will never win the Grand Prix; someone in a wheelchair will never be able to climb Uluru. Technology is not like the physical world — technology can take any shape. Technology is our slave, and we can make it do what we want.

If we call ourselves professionals, we owe it to our clients, their clients, and ourselves, to do our job properly. A chef must care about health, a builder must care about safety, and we must care about accessibility.

Get educated!

Here are some external links that will help you to build more accessible web sites:

  • Dive Into Accessibility — Mark Pilgrim’s excellent introduction to web accessibility
  • Accessify — Tools, wizards, articles and tutorials on web accessibility
  • WebAim — Information, training, resources, guidelines and standards for web accessibility and disability access to the web

And a few SitePoint resources:

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    And frankly, it doesn’t take much effort; it’s not difficult.

    As far as web development goes, that should be the main point to come out of all this. Making all content, including multimedia etc, may prove more of a challenge and require more time/effort, but for the most part, it’s as you say.

  • Enoch Root

    A colleague and I are always trying to get across similar points about best practice. The trouble is few people understand or care; and they often seem to think we are being pernickety. We are often encouraged to “just do what the client wants” even if it’s bad and breaks accessibility – we get the site done, tick a box, move on to the next.

    After a while you start to lose heart. Our bosses don’t care about best practice. Our CMS vendors don’t care about best practice. Our authors don’t care about best practice.

    It makes you feel like changing your career.

  • endev

    I agree with you but I’m going to say that I think it depends on the website. Sure, if your website is providing important, worthwhile content that’s of interest to the majority of the public — such as government and news websites — then it should be accessible.

    However, in a marketer’s eye accessibility isn’t their top priority. Just as they wouldn’t expect a blind or deaf person to get the most out of their television and print ads, they have similar disregard for the same users with websites that are heavy on the marketing content – and let’s face it, at the end of the day a website is just that – a marketing tool.

  • Sebaastiaan Stok

    Absolutely great speech!
    You are right to the point.

  • Sojan80

    Woohoo! Couldn’t agree with you more. I know where I work I get all the “It’s too difficult, or too expensive” expensive to make things accessible” excuses.

    And, since I work at a uni and I suggest things like: “You know, I could put together a half day hands-on workshop for the faculty on the how-to’s and why’s of accessibility?” and same as always I get, “Do you have a Ph.D.? No? Then you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, and are unqualified to teach anything.”

    Why everything in the higher educational world has to be so difficult is beyond me. I’m guessing they feel it makes their degrees worth less to be taught something they don’t know or understand by someone with a lesser degree than they have.

    I think this Target case is going to be one of those pinnacle cases that ends up as a defining moment what is considered “Professional Web Design.” For a long time now you’ve heard whispers every now and again throughout the web world about web developers needing to codify a set of standards, a code of professional ethics if you will for web developers.

  • http://thinkdrastic.net/ gnarly

    Bang on Brothercake.

    Enoch Root said “Our bosses don’t care about best practice. Our CMS vendors don’t care about best practice. Our authors don’t care about best practice.”

    We can go a long way towards changing that. Just look at the strides we’ve made with the browser vendors. Next step – CMS vendors?

  • Neo_ocm

    Well said!! I completely agree with you.
    I think that their problem is that they don’t want to change the way they use HTML tags, just lazyness to learn HTML the right, semantic way.
    Cheers!

  • malikyte

    Owch! American line in favor of market focus? It sometimes irks me that we are (mis?)represented by our own media due to what those in power do. Oh well, I know no offense was meant by it.

    I completely agree with the statements made here, and it confounds me how anyone is able to call themselves (referring to the recent Target Case topic thread) a professional when they’re no longer keeping up with the changes in their profession. It’s like a professor who taught COBOL back “in the day” trying to teach a class in Ruby, but never learned anything new from their days of working with COBOL. It’s a huge exaggeration, but the point is the same – at least in my mind.

  • Richard Medek

    Thanks Brothercake.

    As for the ones who continuously use something along the lines of, “but clients don’t care about accessibility, I mean, they’re not building Braille versions of print ads”…well…print was designed to be a visual medium. The web has—from the ground up—always provided us methods of accessibility.

    Building an accessible website shouldn’t even be a question. It should be as “of course!” as being viewable in major browsers. To go back to the chef analogy, selling the accessibility of a website to a client is like a chef selling the fact that his food isn’t tainted with salmonella. It shouldn’t even be a question.

    Could you imagine the chef who said, “When I provide catering for a large client I usually make sure things are safe. But this client said he doesn’t care about food safety, only taste. So…I’m not even going to worry about it and just serve this chicken the way it is…”

    Besides, anyone who’s a professional here knows half of the challenge of building a website is convincing the client that he is not a web designer. We talk the client out of Flash splash intros, out of background music, out of spinning animated gifs…why are we not talking clients into building an accessible website? And since when does a client say, “please make sure my website isn’t accessible”? I have no idea what conversations are taking place between web professional and clients where accessibility needs to be sold like the rustproofing package on a new car.

  • http://www.domedia.org/ junjun

    HTML was designed with accessibility in mind,

    This is key imho. When a main reason to get this protocol in the first place was to make data accessible, why not do it?

  • http://www.splintered.co.uk redux

    paging chris beasley…

  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    “Do you have a Ph.D.? No? Then you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, and are unqualified to teach anything.”

    That attitude stinks. :[

    Building an accessible website shouldn’t even be a question.

    For all the work I’ve done so far, it isn’t. I don’t even mention it and don’t try and use it as an extra ‘selling factor’. The clients just get a website with as much accessibility built into it as I currently know how to do because it’s all part of the way I work.

  • tuna

    BC – good wakeup call article.

    @Sojan80 I feel the pain.

    …Do you have a Ph.D.? No? Then you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, and are unqualified to teach anything….

    I’m starting to see this in business community too. The people that started and build up the web are being pushed aside for the theorists. Frankly some of these tertiary institutions still have no idea what is really happening on the edge of the web at all. And seem a little to “blind” as to what the real world standards and accessibility practitioners are doing on the web. Having a PhD in Accessibility does not make you can expert, just that you may know what people WERE doing, not what is really going to work,.

  • American

    You know you belong to a special tribe when people feel free — uniquely free — to make hostile references to it in a place like the SitePoint Forum. Imagine the uproar if James Edwards had referred to some obnoxious attitude as, say, uniquely Chinese.

  • Stevie D

    After a while you start to lose heart. Our bosses don’t care about best practice. Our CMS vendors don’t care about best practice. Our authors don’t care about best practice.

    It makes you feel like changing your career.

    Don’t change your career, but think about changing your employer. If the place you’re working now is in the Dark Ages and won’t move with the times, ditch them and take your skills somewhere they will be appreciated.

  • barleytwist

    For all the work I’ve done so far, it isn’t. I don’t even mention it and don’t try and use it as an extra ’selling factor’. The clients just get a website with as much accessibility built into it as I currently know how to do because it’s all part of the way I work.

    That’s the crux of the matter. Don’t rely on being given permission to “add” accessibility. As a competant designer or developer, feed it into the design. We need a professional body promoting web designers to which the more serious can sign up to so the ignorant can be eventaully elbowed out.

    I’m just starting but each site I do get’s a significant effort to get it right to the extent of my current knowledge which I then attempt to extend the same time. I just wish I knew a forum at which I could get expert feedback.

  • NeilOsman

    I find Brothercake words inspiring!
    I am sure there are lots of cases where accessibility has a strong economic basis. Anyhow, as Brothercake argued, this cannot be the justification of accessibility. It’s our job and it should be our wish as humans not to reduce ourselves to narrow economical considerations.

  • dpages

    I agree it should be part of any worthwhile developer’s professional standards, but I usually find the “Google is the ultimate disabled consumer” argument brings the point home to clients who need a commercial justification for spending a bit of time on accessibility.

  • Fa la la

    I usually skim the Sitepoint newsletters, I tend to be busy – so I don’t know why I opened and read the one this morning (maybe it was because I was looking into buying a book – the new CSS one) – only to find and article about accessibility with a … negative … reference to my country.

    Accessibility is about getting the message of the site across to a group of people. The very nature of accessibility wants to remove hindrances to getting the message across – yet, in the article, instead of referring to, say, Adam Smith (the father of capitalistic economic thought), the note refers to a country. A very diverse country, I may add. We’ve got communists to libertarians, socialist to capitalist and everything in between. The message became hostile at that point.

    I try, when I write anything, to remove references to specific groups when the article has nothing to do with people groups. I have a simple test, replace the group name of people with a minority that receives protection from the government for whatever reason and see if I’d want to publish the article that way. In America, we have African Americans, gays, women as the largest groups of protected peoples – why is it OK to say:

    They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly American line in favour of

    but not:

    They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly homosexual line in favour of
    They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly female line in favour of
    They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly Negro line in favour of

    Unless you’re complimenting the group after such statements, I serious doubt anyone would write such a line, even then, it may be stereotyping that comes across offensively – so those lines probably would never see the light of day.

    Yet, it is OK to target America and by that, the peoples in America who happen to like or practice capitalism/market forces. Your message became irrelevant and your point entirely undermined because you elected to target a people group in an article, which, ironically, was about helping another people group.

    Maybe Sitepoint would have done better to hire someone else who understands that this is an international market he is writing to and targeting any group of people is bias, bigoted and unacceptable writing standards.

  • paul bearne

    I have that in order to make accessible website what I end up recoding the fancy effects server side so that the site works without javascript and without CSS. By doing this I protect my site from abuse and javascipt errors and by making it read/layout well without CSS I find the search engines give it a higher ranking

    So use these reasons not I that to help 1% of the website users and we get a “win win” situation.

    Paul

  • barleytwist

    I follow this post to get more experience from others NOT an overreaction to someones post which also contains nothing of use!

  • bloodofeve

    So right!
    I am for ever trying to explain to friends who’ve had web sites built about accessibility – most people seem to think it’s just about plug-ins, they forget that not everyone uses a standard browser.
    How do you explain that a flash driven website is not accessible when you can only view it if you use one of the standard browsers. Education, Education and more Education is the answer.
    I have been trying to strive for a long time to bring my designs up to full accessible compliance, it is not easy and is some times down right frustrating, but I’m getting there.

    Yes I do make mistakes some times colours aren’t ideal for everyone, some times the navigation isn’t quite expandable enough, but I know if the CSS is turned off my sites are usable.

    Accessibility is a serious problem here in the UK, just as much so as in America, I just hope the few of us who strive to do the right thing will eventually show the way things should be going.

  • Jorge Fernandes

    Dear James,

    I really appreciate your notes. I’m a compulsive reader of Sitepoint information. I think I was one of the first clients that ask to sitepoint guys to receive books in digital formats. I’m also an accessibility technicians and today I have the clear sense that I work because some years ago someone care to think in accessibility of digital content. Gracefully transformation is a great principle and the slave technology do it already pretty well in some cases.. I wish you a great inspiration to write fantastic articles. Javascript is in fact a field to discover.

    Regards,
    Jorge Fernandes
    Access Program of Knowledge Society Agency
    http://www.acesso.umic.pt

  • blindpete

    American

    I presume by that you mean profit motivated.
    I have no issue with accessibility per say. No one likes to be hit over the head with anything right or wrong. Half the problem with this discussion is the zealots on either side.

    At the end of day each of us is in business for dollars to earn a living. There are loads of things all of us do, that could be considered “best practices”, but is that why we do them? Probably not. With experience even the worst hack of a developer eventually comes to understand that consistency gained by adhering to a standard or best practice provides a ROI when the site is: updated, extended, expanded or sold. Accessibility is no different and it will work its way into everyone’s process eventually.

    One day google, yahoo, msn may even have special tags that identify/rate the accessibility of web content. May be they already do? When that happens it will force the community as a whole to take heed of accessibility.

    Nice article, I am look forward to Linux as a Desktop next week.

  • paulg66

    “They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly American line in favour of market forces determining everything”

    Couldn’t you have just said something like:

    “They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a line in favour of market forces determining everything”

    If Americans cause you such angst, perhaps you should limit access to your content to more “progressive” and “conformist” countries.

    Apparently, it’ll make your life easier to be rid of us . . .

  • http://cmgarvin.com/ brainphat

    Amen, brother!

    Internet = information. Why have a publicly available page out there if it’s not accessible to all of the public? Might as well post 1′s & 0′s. And let’s face it, folks: making websites accessible makes you a better designer. Want examples? Google [the most popular sites].

    I’m ambivalent RE: the American bashing. Americans are the BEST America-bashers there are (we do have a view from the inside, after all), with the possible exception of the Brits. Me thinks that some are being awfully sensitive over a statement that is essentially true: we Americans are always bottom-lining everything we do. That goes cubed for corporations. So let’s not get so high & mighty, hmm?

  • Flo

    One of the points I’m making with my clients about accessibility is that it’s already required in the UK and that with the Target case, it will probably be a requirement here. They may as well save themselves time, trouble, and money later.

    As for universities, accessibility is a requirement now for anyone receiving federal money and there’s hardly a university that doesn’t.

    I wish common human decency would win over everyone, but it doesn’t. Having some bottom-line arguments seems to help.

    Thanks for the article and the links to more resources.

  • the peregrine

    Funny how I completely overlooked the alleged slur against my country because I agree so much with the article’s affirmation of accessibility.

    Frankly, though, I think it’s fair enough to say that no other nation has been so diligent in promoting domestic policies that “let market forces determine everything.” You can judge this fact as good or bad, and it’s still a fact.

    My dad was a quality assurance engineer who built nuclear power plants. The difficulty of that job was no excuse for doing it poorly, either, and the stakes here may not be as high but the same principle applies to any web design job. In any line of work, there are always people who are in it to make a quick buck and others who are focused on quality.

    In the end, market forces do prevail but quality is a force in the market, too! Accessibility is one good indicator of quality, as far as I’m concerned. People who are in it for a quick buck often overlook that, and those people have no staying power because they’re soiling their own reputation with every job.

  • adamtoth

    What you say about professionalism is spot-on. I interview tons of web developer candidates, and am amazed at how many people who say they have excellent html and css knowledge, can’t even describe for me the difference between a <b> tag and a <strong> tag (“Don’t they both just make bold text?”). They have no knowledge of semantic web development or accessibility issues. These are not well rounded “professionals” that I would want sitting in front of my clients.

  • http://www.designbysls.com Design By S.L.S.

    Did any of you who perceived “American” as a slur actually consider the fact that “Americans” often refer to the “American way” when referencing profit driven, capitalistic mentality?

    Is the fact that James resides in the UK your only opposition to the entire article?

    Gee… Shucks! I must not get it as I am just some Canadian… Eh?

    Can’t we just get back to the subject of accessibility in web design? That is the ONLY argument worth mentioning here! It is something that is too often overlooked and that is wrong. The number of people who need accessible websites is a lot higher than many give credit to, and it will only get higher over the next 10-15 years as our aging society continues to encounter more visual limitations.

    Nicely written James.

    S

  • Shelley B.

    Everything has limits — Not every organization that maintains a website has the resources to make them perfectly accessible. When limited resources exist, you have to set priorities, and priorities such as simply making sure that content is up to date and visually attractive often come before accessibility.

    Ignorance on the part of the management of the organizations who run websites is part of the problem. I keep up a website for a small municipal library, and I had to inform my boss about accessibility and what Section 508 compliance meant as a part of my long-term priorities. I know I am coming at this from a different perspective than you folk who are into the whole web development thing full-time, but it’s got to be said — educating your clients about the hidden features of your product such as accessibility is your responsibility to them as clients. If the client, then, decides not to pursue accessibility after a clear concise explanation of applicable costs of implementation and responsibilities of not providing the service, then the responsibility is in their hands, not yours.

    In the most ideal world, every blind or visually impaired person would be able to use every website perfectly. It is something to strive for — but only alongside
    everything else that must be prioritized in its use of human time and capital.

  • Vicki

    Great article and references. What do you think about using the words “Click Here” in copy? I know not everyone “clicks”. Is that annoying to those who don’t “click” or do they really care? Are we insensitive to use that term?

  • http://www.heulog.co.uk cymrojazz

    You know you belong to a special tribe when people feel free — uniquely free — to make hostile references to it in a place like the SitePoint Forum. Imagine the uproar if James Edwards had referred to some obnoxious attitude as, say, uniquely Chinese.

    It is unfortunate that the term American was used as a synonym for what some people might call “extreme capitalism”. There is however a recognised difference in trends in capitalism in, say, Europe and trends in capitalism in, say, the United States. The phrase ‘the American model of capitalism’ would have been more helpful or accurate. That particular model (at its most extreme) has an international reputation for being indifferent to the wellfare of employees, minorities, the environment, social responsibility etc etc. It is only at the extremes that this is true. But it is an uncomfortable truth that the United States are experiencing extreme times at the moment.
    The European Model has its moments too!!!!!!!!!! Anyhoo

    I found accessibility a steep learning curve at first. It felt I had to to everything backwards with one hand behind my back. But the more I’ve come to understand CSS, XHTML information hierarchy and how do get JS, Java and Flash to be the icing, not the sponge of the cake it’s actually enabled me to focus more clearly on design principles, and on Website aims, and objectives.

  • Mr Monkey

    People aren’t equal…

    You need to elaborate a little more on that statement. People ARE equal. We are all born, live and die and share the same space and time. I think what you are getting at is that people are not the same – men / women, children / adult, disability / no disability – and they are not treated as equals. But I believe it is a fundamental fact of life that every human is equal, whether they are treated that way or not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egalitarianism

  • Peter

    I read with much interest “Why Accessibility? Because it’s our Job!”. I personally think accessibility is very important and it should always be one of the foremost concerns when a site is designed among other issues. But I also have come to the realization that accessibility is touted and bandied about as the Holy-Grail of web development almost with the same fervor as table-less design is. And although I always prefer to use CSS, I also feel there’s nothing wrong with tables if used in the way they were meant to be used, e.g. for tabular data.
    Unfortunately, there are a number of issues that prevent all developers or designers from achieving “Nirvana” when it comes to accessibility. First, there’s no one definition of what “accessibility” really is. Accessibility can mean different things to different users and under have different requirements under different circumstances. One can refer to accessibility in a general and broad way where any of the three major browsers can access content in a consistent way – that’s one definition. One can refer to issues that involve Section 508 and that pertain to disabled users – that’s another more tightly defined definition and which leads to another subtle issue: there are visually disabled (e.g. blind) users that should be able to access a retail site that is geared towards clothing for example, and be able to go through the site without extraneous issues getting in the way. But if the person is visually disabled then other than going through the effort to make the site accessible for such users the additional effort has to be questioned simply because if the user cannot see the clothing then what’s the point? This may sound cold and uncaring but its reality and leads to another issue which is time. Unfortunately, even with current modern browsers that are a far cry from just one year ago, as good as they are, they still have consistently problems with CSS in general and can render differently when compared to each other. You still have to test your designs in IE, FireFox, and Opera as a minimum. This adds time and as we all know time is money. If you’re lucky enough to have a client asking you to design a site, the client doesn’t want to hear that it’s going to take an extra week or so to ensure that the site is “accessible”. Another issue that as designers, one has little control over is the client. How many designers have had the unfortunate experience of “the client” assuming the role of “creative director” and insisting that colors and other “accessibility” related issues be a certain way and that actually violate not only accessibility guidelines but basic good design? And I think such clients are more the case than the opposite. Add to these issues the fact that only until recently have development tools been redesigned to included current standards and some accessibility concerns in mind added in. I think that as long as you have browsers that, in spite of their adherence to standards, still have differences that need to be accounted for, development tools that have accessibility issues with the code they produce, and clients that want to take control of the creative process, then there will always be a high level of non-accessibility. Although I can create Flash sites, I’m not a die-hard Flash developer – but this is a major reason, aside from animation, that Flash and Flash websites have been able to take such a strong hold on web design. Almost every browser can display Flash and it’s not affected by differences with how the browser renders X(HTML), etc. Granted, Flash has it’s own set of issues related to accessibility, and most of the complaints about Flash sites are not because of Flash itself but rather how it’s used (or misused), but Adobe is just beginning to address them – but Flash does make many consistency issues a moot point – but accessibility still can be an issue. In short, as developers and designers we have to be constantly vigilant of what we do and why we do it and We also have to be willing to grow and admit when we don’t know something. Clients also need to be aware of web standards and why it’s important. Once clients are on the “accessibility bandwagon” you’ll see that the issue will take a turn for the better rather than it being an abstract goal, trumpeted by a certain few.

  • http://www.aarontgrogg.com aarontgrogg

    First of all: Anybody that doesn’t “get” accessibility should go volunteer to help the elderly or physically challenged one day, and you’ll get a sense of what their web-surfing life is like…

    And a few points, if I may:

    We are often encouraged to “just do what the client wants”

    If you’re coding semantic XHTML, you’re 99% accessible; what would your boss/client be complaining about?

    Just as they wouldn’t expect a blind or deaf person to get the most out of their television and print ads, they have similar disregard for the same users with websites…

    Those are not quite practical examples: television is innately visual, but the blind person could still see it, can’t they; and a deaf person CAN get newspapers in braille, or, if the newspaper makes their website correctly, they can get the news via the web!

    To me, “accessibility” is no more than another browser: would you (or your boss, or your client) want you publishing a website that doesn’t work in IE6 or IE7? And I don’t think many developers would say they are necessarily “easy” to code for, but there it is, that’s our world.

    It would be really great if all the browsers worked in unison and, for that matter, were accessible themselves (why doesn’t IE and/or Firefox offer a screen reader built-in?), or if at least all screen readers got together and realized that, for the good of their industry and their community, they should get on the standards bandwagon, but none of the above cases are going to happen fully any time soon.

    So, we, as professional developers, should take it on ourselves to “do the right thing” and “do the job right”; that includes coding as “completely” as possible, for the widest audience as possible. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense NOT to code as cleanly as possible.

    And, BTW, brothercake, I’m sure you didn’t mean anything harsh here, and I have to agree to an extent, but not all us “Americans” are evil… :-)

    Atg

  • JackBellis.com

    James,
    Do you feel like (old reference) someone on the Groucho Marx show who said the Magic Word and won a prize? I thought the “Brothercake” name ringed a bell… I used your JS menu years ago and no surprise that you’re at the front of the line still.

    Your key words, from “ignorant rhetoric” through “political-correctness gone mad” are brilliant, indicated as much by the thin-skinned whom it offended as by the enlightened who applaud it. With apologies to those who think all technical matters concern only engineering, few web topics could be more tightly entwined with politics than accessibility, eh?

    But I’m an American, a thick-skinned one who knows we need more debate, not less; more self-evaluation, not less. I’ve tried repeatedly to capture in a few words for my young kids, the profound difference between protectionist, conservative, selfish values and the alternative. Your clause “criticizing any idealistic intentions as political-correctness gone mad” might not be the bulk of the roadblock in front of accessility (but I can appreciate your frustration), but it is a perfectly crafted statement of broader themes. Ideal concepts are nowhere more feasible than in software, where we have totalitarian control in a given context. Idealism in general is too readily ridiculed out of discussion in my American because of lack of open-mindedness and imagination.

  • http://www.aarontgrogg.com aarontgrogg

    Sorry, minor typo:

    but the blind person could still see it, can’t they


    Obviously mean “but the blind person could still hear it, can’t they”… :-)

  • Fed Up American

    Gee, BrotherCake. I guess that you have forgotten your history a bit. Seems to me that it was the evil Americans that pulled Europe’s fat out of the fire and instituted the Marshall plan nearly 60 years ago. And I don’t recall that Europeans complain too loudly when Americans open their hearts and purses to provide aid and assistance when disaster strikes. So much for evil capitalism. I have a friend from Eastern Europe who extols the virtues of socialism in this way,”…under socialism, everyone is equal…equally poor”.

    Am I a bit of point? Perhaps. But again YOU turned a discussion of accessibility (which I favor) into a diatribe amount my country.

  • http://www.heulog.co.uk cymrojazz

    But the again YOU turned a discussion of accessibility (which I favor) into a diatribe amount my country.

    They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly American line in favour of market forces determining everything, and criticizing any idealistic intentions as political-correctness gone mad.

    28 words hardly constitute a diatribe

  • http://www.designbysls.com Design By S.L.S.

    cymrojazz that was very to the point and well stated.

  • Richard Morton

    Good post. I don’t understand why the attitudw to accessibility is still so bad, particularly in England (and the rest of the UK) where the law demands it of websites. It’s probably because the penalties for not doing this are too weak. You could build a house that was perfectly safe and yet didn’t meet all the building regulations, but it would be foolish to do so, and particularly foolish if the fact was visible to the rest of the world.

    I would consider accessibility to be a vital part of every website design, right from the beginning, but I would certainly agree that it isn’t possible to make something perfectly accessible.

    By the way, it probably is possible for someone in a wheelchair to climb uluru, I seem to recall someone climbing a mountain recently using a portable rail system with a wheelchair.

    Richard Morton
    QM Consulting Ltd
    http://www.qm-consulting.co.uk

  • minutes2memories

    nice one james. good professional review with a bit of contradiction thrown in. it might be better to stick to the technology and leave the metaphors to the english profs…

    to ascribe to ‘political correctness’ and then tar all americans with one brush and make a culturally insensitive reference to climbing uluru (with or without a wheel chair) was no doubt an inadvertant slip-up but amusing nevertheless.

    but, as i say, the main point is spot-on.

  • HooHah

    I agree with you about accessibility, but was put off a bit by your slap at Americans, especially when you consider that accessibility for the disabled is the law of the land in America.

  • Anonymous

    HooHah – accessibility for the disabled is only partially the law of the land in America. Correct me if I’m wrong but section 508 only applies to government organisations and public bodies. The law in England (and the rest of the UK) is stronger because it applies to all websites.

    Richard Morton
    QM Consulting Ltd
    www.qm-consulting.co.uk

  • Sojan80

    Friends, Programmers, Developers, lend me your ears; or, if you prefer, my fellow Web Technologists, I think what brothercake is getting at is as Shakespeare himself so eloquently points out, <q>The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; </q><cite> The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, Act3, Scene 2</cite>.

    Now, as an American and as a developer I have seen, and still see every day examples of just what brothercake is pointing out with his statement <q>They generally follow a familiar pattern, taking a peculiarly American line in favor of market forces determining everything, and criticizing any idealistic intentions as political-correctness gone mad.</q>

    How many times do you here on MSNBC, CNN, SquawkBox, and so on that in the American free market society of today market forces determine how this is affected or that is affected. The fact that he used Americans as a prime example is actually quite appropriate in this regard as so much of our economic policy that is reported regularly is all about how market forces determine everything.

    More importantly though I think what James is driving at is that it is these faulty, weak-minded, ill-informed articles about accessibility that have given it such a “nightmarish” to the not-so-tech-savvy in the world.

    Yes, 508 is extremely limited in its scope and only applies to those websites produced using federal monies such as what is produced by government offices and programs or state agencies. But even though 508 is by far the more simple to implement you start talking about Accessibility around the business industry and you see grown men cringe in fear and rage against an enemy that doesn’t exist.

    You show me a CEO who isn’t just “bottom-line” minded and all about the “Benjamin’s” (Franklin’s that is, C-Notes, Centuries, Dead Presidents) and I’ll show you an astute businessperson. I myself tell my co-workers in higher education that accessibility, and making information more accessible isn’t that hard. In fact, if all you’re following is 508 it’s actually about 98% common sense. Still, every day I get from one academic or another that accessibility is an infringement on their right to teach. Remember, this is in higher education.

    But likewise as James points out, I see it in business all the time as well. I used to ask if they wanted their websites to be accessible and got told “no, it costs to much”, or “no, it’s too difficult to maintain” which is sad. What’s even worse is I still hear that same tired old diatribe every day. So now, I don’t even bother asking, I just build in all the accessibility I can into every website I build, while at the same time trying to educate the folks I work for that “accessibility” isn’t a dirty word.

    As an American, born and raised, am I offended by brothercake’s choice of example? No. In fact, I applaud it, because for me, as a developer in America, it really made it hit home.

    I for one say that if using the American economy as an example for why we as developers should build as much accessibility into our products as we can, as well as being as well-educated as we can on the subject of accessibility as we can so we can better inform our clients and dispel the myths about accessibility that they have come to regard as truths, then go for it.

  • the peregrine

    So, we, as professional developers, should take it on ourselves to “do the right thing” and “do the job right”; that includes coding as “completely” as possible, for the widest audience as possible. To me, it just doesn’t make any sense NOT to code as cleanly as possible.

    Exactly. And it’s important for all of us to understand that there is no “Nirvana” of accessibility; it’s a commitment we make from the beginning of a project, the same as we commit to writing code that validates. We know as professionals that “best practices” must be applied to accessibilty as well as to any other design criterion, and that not all valid code meets the criteria of those “best practices.”

    It seems that many people these days believe in Deus ex machina, relying on Dreamweaver or some other tool to magically create valid and accessible websites. The most accessible websites are made the same way they’re experienced by the end user: with real honest-to-goodness human interaction and a lot of thought. Having developed an accessible framework with semantic structure and carefully conceived CSS styling, plugging in accessible content becomes almost as easy as cut-and-paste.

  • KenM

    First, as my “arguments are ignorant rhetoric,” I do not expect you to pay any attention to them.

    Second, do you really think that it is a good idea to insult your customers that way? That seems pretty ignorant to me.

    Third, it is not your job to tell me what my job is.

    Fourth, yes, market forces will (usually) solve the problem. If Target is not responsive to the market, they will pay the price as others do respond. If you want to change how Target does thing, there are ways to do so. You could write letters or buy stock in the company.

    But there are always little god-like creatures who want to dictate every aspect of life to others. And they usually use the unaccountable judges in the courts rather than convince others of the rightness of their cause and have a vote.

    There are too many questions of degree and scope to be answered in courts. You said, “I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s not spectacularly difficult either.” It is more than difficult. It is impossible to out-guess some mindless bureaucrat that has the power of life and death over you and never has to account for their choices.

    We in Albuquerque continually work in a multi-cultural environment without much problem. We recognize the differences but no one demands that others change their life style to please us. If this is what you want, go to France or Germany to do business. There you can sink into the bottomless pit regulations all you want to.

    But what do I know? You have already assigned my words to the realm of “ignorant rhetoric.”

    Ken

  • http://www.spiegelweb.com.au elizabeth_s

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that all Americans are purely market driven. After all, it was (obviously) Americans who created the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, on the various forums I’ve read, comments along lines of ‘[commercial organisation] can ignore the needs of people with disabilities if they want to – those people can just choose to shop somewhere else’ or ‘enforcing accessibility is an example of unreasonable government interference in business / political correctness gone mad’ seem to come from Americans, so I can’t see that describing this set of arguments as a ‘peculiarly American line’ is unreasonable.

    In my own (government) organisation, the problem is not that the powers-that-be think accessibility is unimportant, it’s that despite having a huge internet site with invalid code and 15-20 nested layout tables on every page, they think they’ve achieved it, and nothing that I can say (as a pleb who isn’t even in an IT role) will convince them otherwise. They acknowledge a problem with pdfs and forms, but not with the site as a whole.

  • steve

    I’ve had this discussion with Brothercake before, and frankly, I’m still annoyed!

    Who the hell was it that decided that ‘accessibility’ is something that some dumb-add “Jaws” software can read/parse?

    Just because the screen reader can read it, doesnt mean that whats being read will make sense!

    The web is primarily a uni-sensory world (sight) when it doesnt have to be. Right now, the most exciting accessibility device to come down the pike is…you guessed it…THE NINTENDO WII!

    you heard me :)

    It brings a hitherto unknown component to a web-page….TOUCH (perhaps under appreciated by me and you but a whole new world for the blind) With its motion sensing (and soon in v2, positional sensing as well) we can have a web interface that will give us true immersion:

    Example: Your wristwatch is a browser that connects to “HOW TO JOG.com” it continuously uploads your position via gps, while motion and position sensors “watch” your posture and send back encouraging words (or a drill sergeants abuse) over your headphones!

    THAT is true accessibility, not this HTML parsing, “what is semantic” bullshit :)

    We need to think out of the BOX MODEL and visualize our web sites in 3d or 4d modes with Audio,tactile (and perhaps olfactory) imagery.

    Also, dont assume that BLIND people are the only handicapped people who need to be ‘enabled’ by our accessibility efforts!

  • http://www.designbysls.com Design By S.L.S.

    Now… I have followed along when comments came into my inbox and I have to say one thing. (Yes… It is humourous but not making light of the actual issue…)

    Steve,

    The idea of olfactory sensations while surfing the net is actually dreadful for me. Maybe I have see the “Fart Button” one too many times as a banner on some site but…

    Seriously now. For people like me who are dreadfully allergic to something that is a commonly used item. Olfactory sensations would not be a good thing. In fact… It could be very dangerous for me indeed. A public shopping mall is like a death chamber at times.

    Something to consider as we push our evolution onward. Personally I would protest such a move. Mind you I also feel the same about “Smell-a-vision”.

    Shelley

    Praying the days of that are so far off she will not be here to see it.

  • http://www.aarontgrogg.com aarontgrogg

    Steve:

    I hear what you’re saying, and when you get that watch, let me know,maybe I’ll consider jogging (but doubt it… :-).

    But the issue at hand actually IS bring the web to those that cannot see or easily navigate via a mouse; that is the main crux of web accessibility in today’s web market.

    But thank you for mentioned “out loud” that “accessibility” doesn’t just mean “blind”… The most hilarious/annoying comment I hear about web accessibility is “what makes web surfing from a wheelchair so difficult?”… Alas, we have so far to go…

    Atg

  • steve

    well, my current experiment/project right now involves driving around town with a WII remote tied to my head with a velcro strap!

    Two inverters power the WII , the wireless router and the Windows 2000 pc in the trunk (Running a WAMP stack as a local webserver/php environment). The WII connects to the “internet” in the car via Localhost.

    Parking the car in the garage for a few minutes (ignition turned off if you try this at home) syncs and downloads my todo list, emails and latest MP3′s.

    So far, I’ve gotten it to recognize a head roll (you know, the way the ‘Sisters’ do it when they ‘snap their fingers in a Z’ to return to the main audible menu, standard Nod for No, head shake for yes and so on..

    My BIGGEST problem is ambient infra-red noise coming from all over the place, and curious cops.

    What people dont realize is that developing for that “loser market” i.e. the blind/handicapped, opens up a product to millions of people who CAN see, but need their eyes for the road!

    Think a web accessible Howard Stern/Talk Show scenario, where you can nod to agree/disagree…of course, you will probably need some kind of ‘Puke Interface’ but that’s outside the scope of this thread!

  • Scott Horvath

    @endev (first few comments in the beginning)

    Not only should everyone be concerned about making their site accessible (obviously, gov’t does for legal reasons) but retail organizations like Target, Microsoft, and other company that “sells” products should be very concerned with making they’re site accessible. From a gov’t perspective it’s about improving access to information. From a retail perspective it should be “to increase our sales over the other guys!”

    Now, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I believe it was somewhere around 20% of people have some form of disability, handicap, etc (be it hearing-, visually-, or motor- impaired). That’s a large percentage. And depending on your business (Microsoft or Target for example) have a substantial customer base that has a disability in some form or fashion. There’s also another significant percentage of people that have a disability that want to use certain retails stores online but don’t bother b/c they know it’s not accessible to them. If those sites suddenly became accessible to them, it drive more customers to the site, help increase sales, and paint a nice, rosy picture of the company because it now “cares” about accessibility of their site. Although that might not be the case from the managements perspective, it will appear that way. Whether they do it because they truly care, or they do it for their profit margins, the end goal is the same…an accessible site that everyone can use.

    There’s no excuse for not making your site accessible other than ignorance.

  • henrrrik

    I agree completely.

    It seems to me that many of the detractors believe that making a site accessible is a lot of extra work when it really isn’t (assuming you actually know your trade). Much like the proponents of table-based design this notion seems to be pushed by a bunch of third-rate “web designers” that acquired their skills in the late 90′s and are too set in their ways to change.
    Also, accessible, semantic HTML is good SEO, so convincing your client shouldn’t be difficult at all.

  • Grant

    Web sites should only be created by fully qualified people who have an understanding and been trained in the need for usability. The industry needs to structure itself so that self trained individuals who read a book or hack code they steal from others are not able to bastardize good web design. After all Plumbers, Electricians etc have to be qualified and licensed, so it should be the same for the IT industry.

  • http://www.designbysls.com Design By S.L.S.

    #
    Grant Says:
    February 14th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Web sites should only be created by fully qualified people who have an understanding and been trained in the need for usability. The industry needs to structure itself so that self trained individuals who read a book or hack code they steal from others are not able to bastardize good web design. After all Plumbers, Electricians etc have to be qualified and licensed, so it should be the same for the IT industry.

    Are you kidding me? So you honestly think the “graduates” who come out of schools should know more than those who are self taught or who have been working in the industry right?

    One might like to think this is the way things are but let me provide some insight:

    I never studied it in school but I now tutor and teach people who have graduated with degrees in what I do. Go figure… Damn that self-taught book learning, and hands on practical experience instead of sitting in a class!

    Granted… There are no standards in the industry; However, the real problem is that half of the formally educated people I know have had to self-teach themselves post graduation because the classes are/were out of date, the methods inaccurate and the coding was poor practice.

    Until there are no longer major changes happening every month let alone year in the way things are done… Self-learning is the ONLY way to stay in the game.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    The industry needs to structure itself so that self trained individuals who read a book or hack code they steal from others are not able to bastardize good web design. After all Plumbers, Electricians etc have to be qualified and licensed, so it should be the same for the IT industry.

    Plumbers and electricians need to be qualified because their mistakes can and often do bring injury, property damage, illness and death to people. Bad web design doesn’t have an equivalent risk to flood your kitchen, contaminate your water or electrocute your kids.

    Even the worst web site is unlikely to damage people and property, so I can’t see that regulation ever getting legs.

    Plus, the web is a legitimate hobby for many millions of people. Should there be a legal onus on a 12 year old girl to make sure her page about her cat is accessible.

    I don’t disagree with the general sentiment of your comment, but the web is a much more complex arena than plumbing.