Why accessibility matters in design and development

I’ve been in this industry for a little over a decade. Ten, five years ago accessibility was a huge thing. The software that used to make websites accessible to individuals with disabilities was bad. It was terrible. Search engines and accessibility software had no way to handle dynamic content, It was a complete mess and there was an argument for using less technology for making things more accessible and indexable in search engines. Fast forward to 2018 everything has caught up. Major players like google are able to index dynamic content and major, well known screen readers can read dynamic content.The responsibility of making things accessible and searchable is on the vendor who offer those services more so than the developer who built the web experience. I just have to ask am I wrong for thinking that the responsibility of accessibility has shifted to vendors who offer this service. Should accessibility still be the responsibility of engineers even though there are these huge companies whom focus on accessibility. In the last decade we have had so many responsibilities split out to individual sectors. Should it be an engineers responsibility to handle accessibility who is not in that realm of business. If you think it is I want to know why given the proliferation of individual companies and products that specifically focus on that. If I’m honest there are to many companies out there that make money off of accessibility and that alone. Why should I as a developer help them in any way. If anything I should want to make their job difficult or worth doing.

My knowledge of screen readers is woefully inadequate, but I remember @Stomme_poes saying that commercial assistive technology can be very expensive, so people are often stuck with old versions (which, I believe, also locks them into using old browsers) because of the cost of upgrading. Whether we’re now at the stage where at least the vast majority of AT users have modern versions, I don’t know. Hopefully, somebody else can provide more information.

However, accessibility is about more than screen readers and assistive technology, just as disability is about more than visual impairment. Unfortunately, this fact seems to be overlooked by many, despite the fact that there are accessibility issues which are very much the responsibility of the site designer/developer.

Basic design issues such as colour contrast can affect those with poor vision or colour-blindness. There are various online tools for testing, such as https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/. I use the Colour Contrast Checker tool from the Paciello Group, which also includes simulations of the effects of colour-blindness and cataracts. (The Windows version runs on Ubuntu using Wine.)

Not everyone uses (or can use) a mouse, and including keyboard accessibility should be standard. Many designers remove the browser’s default outlining of focused links, but don’t provide an alternative, making it hard to see where focus is on the page. Using :focus in addition to every :hover rule is an easy fix, but so often omitted. Likewise, ensure JavaScript is keyboard-accessible.

To ensure accessibility, use either a device independent event handler (one that works with both the mouse and the keyboard) or use both mouse dependent and keyboard dependent event handlers.


Moving images can cause problems for some users. Again, it is the responsibility of the designer and developer to follow the guidelines and ensure their pages are usable. https://webaim.org/techniques/images/ It’s not about omitting this type of content; only ensuring it’s presented in a way which doesn’t make the page unusable for some.

Text against a background image can be hard to read for those with visual or cognitive problems. Links which are too small and/or too close together can pose real difficulties for folk whose fine motor skills are impaired … The list goes on.

Most of these issues have a fairly quick and simple remedy, but it needs the designer/developer to be aware of the problems and build with them in mind. https://webaim.org/articles/ provides good information on many aspects of accessibility.

Remember, too, that “disability” is not necessarily something “fixed”; the world is not divided into the able-bodied and the disabled. Anybody can acquire a disability as the result of accident or illness, and it may be permanent or temporary. Many folk with difficulties don’t regard themselves as disabled at all. I have an elderly friend with severe arthritis in her hands (makes using a mouse difficult), colour-blindness and (temporarily) cataracts. She doesn’t regard herself as in any way disabled, but she’s a great test subject for website designs.


I just had day long training about accessibility and I take back what I said. I think I oversimplified the reason for making sites accessible. Technology has come a long way to support dynamic content and there are a lot of tools out there facilitate accessibility. I’ve always had accessibility kind of in the back of my mind. However, when I saw realtime someone with a disability (smart guy) navigate the internet or an app you kind of feel for them. Even with the best of sites screen reader technology is rough. We had a very smart individual show use what it is like navigating the web. He is blind. That didn’t stop him from meeting Mark Zuckerburg and “The Rock”. Mark Zukerburg actually asked this individual directly what Facebook could do to make the website/app more accessible. You know what this persons answer was? He wanted to know the people in a picture. This is before tagging. In some ways this person is the reason why people are identifiable in photos. That was years ago. Honestly I never actually tried to navigate a website using software like JAWS. When you see in person how proficient people without sight are with tools like this it is quite amazing. I never had two thoughts about it. I knew basic accessibility prinicples but never actually used a screen reader. The one thing that I immediately noticed is that the screen reader is fast. Like I couldn’t make heads or tails of half the stuff this was saying. Yet, this guy who was blind understood everything. It was actually quite amazing to see. To someone like myself it sounded like utter none sense unless you really slowed it down and even then it was this cryptic sequence of words. People asked a few questions about what his friends say when they hear his or the web interrpretattion of the website. People who are really proficient with these technologies are amazing. They are basically listening to a bunch of utter none sense at a rate which I could not comprehend. We also talked how certain websites have terrible accessibility and they put him off. In my decade of dev I have never heard someone with a disability like being blind speak well and articulate the importance of accessibility. After the seminar I had a whole knew respect for accessibility. The guest speaker who is blind but extremely smart (MA political science) and the director/lead of the organization I’m associated with really did a great job to explain WCAG in a way that wasn’t dry, and boring. I apologize for that original post. After having a seminar from acessibility experts and to listen and have a demo from someone who has a disability. I was looking at this topic from the wrong perspective. I think it is very important for people to know some basic to intermediate concepts about accessibility. That not only includes developer but designers as well.


I agree with you. I think I oversimplified this. However, I am going to say that accessibility is an added cost and effort. Especially if you want to get it right. There are tools out there to check accessibility. Great tools. I don’t want to name drop but those tools can only check basic things. They don’t know about context. As a tech guy I think about everything from a tech stand point. Once you see someone with a disability like being blind go through a website you start to realize that accessibility is much less about tech, patterns and more about context. Individuals without sight want to be able to navigate to important actions on the page, quickly and efficiently. Much of accessibility as it applies to blind individuals is about being about to navigate without sight to important actions on the page. To actually figure out the important action on any page requires some form of user testing. It is interested because I actually see the person with the disability to be better proof of what the core page function is than anyone else now. I find this very interesting now. I think… hell I know my original post was completely misguided and incorrect. What I found very interesting is the two women who lead this conversation whom are leaders where not nearly as interested in tech as they were social work. I’m interested in tech but the director and lead accessibility expert who gave this seminar are basically technological social workers trying to convince CEOs, various stakeholders, project managers, devs, etc the importance of accessibility.


I kind of want to punch myself in the face reading my original post. I think it was completely misguided and I hope people learn from it. I talk about being closed minded all time on this forum. Close minded in regards to certain concepts that are not necessarily popular opinion/belief. I thunk I’m spreading contridictory information with things like that original post. I actually feel really bad about being thinking in such a closed minded way and I hope that someone who has questions about accessibility looks beyond seo implications and truely thinks about the way someone with a disability is able to interact with their product. After seeing someone who is blind but intelligent navigate websites I feel terrible about what I original said.

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I found this interesting. The next time you guys see someone use tables for layout don’t only speak about how tables are bad, not good for modern dev. Talk about how using tables for layout is completely inaccessible. Screen readers interpret tables as data. So if you actually listen to a table based website on a modern screen reader you will hear a bunch of utter crap. This guy went to a website that was still table based and the things this screen reader said was just none sense. Tables are not translated as layout they are expected to be data. Not only are tables are terrible way layout content but they are completely unaccessible within a layout context. Tables should only be used for data. If you are using tables for layout (with the exception of email) you are not only building a low quality website but you are building a website that is going to be very difficult for a screen reader to interpert.


I can’t fault anyone for being ignorant. If they don’t know, they don’t know.

What disappoints me is when someone is willing to alienate a class of users because it is an “acceptable” loss - the ROI wouldn’t improve the “bottom line”.

I’m guessing that as devs and designers the way to best have quality when working for others is to incorporate it from the start and not to plan to “do it later”. That is, to not give a client a chance to say “good enough”.

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Are you responding to my original post? If so you should read my others. I’m constantly learning. I’m wrong sometimes. I have no problem saying I’m wrong. Isn’t that the way we learn.

I’m actually very embarrassed by what I originally said. Read the thread. Example if you are trying to learn php and you ask for help. You constantly ask for help. People tell you are doing things incorrectly. Someone comes along and shows you the right way to do things way beyond expectations They rewrite code and even restructure your database to be normalized. Shouldn’t you as someone who is interested in technology absorb that information and use it to evolve/transform your knowledge. I think so. No one knows everything. We are constantly learning. I mean I came on here and voiced my opinion about accessibility. How I thought it was complete and utter none sense. Fast forward a few days later I’ve changed my mind. I was educated by very smart individuals about the importance of accessibility. Now I’m responding and saying I was completely wrong. Completely. Only wish that others would be so humble or open to changing their ways and learning from individuals who are experts or leaders in their respective areas.


I was replying to your “punch myself” post.

I think it’s common to see the world from ones own perspective. Similar to a newbie developing something that works in their environment that may not consider what it would be like for a different browser, version, bandwidth etc.

The WAI can be an eye opener

But even then, I think the standards are only a start that address the more common issues.

That said, if sites made the effort to have image alt text and tab index I think it would be at least something.

It is very interesting to see the world wide web from someone who is blind. Someone who is blind but is extremely smart. Someone with multiple degrees. Someone learned/advanced their way not through coddling but finding a way to basically put themselves on the same level as people without any disability. Top see what they deal with in regards to web tech just kind of opens your mind. I never really thought about it besides for basic concepts but once you see real time someone access their device, tech websites whatever it is very interesting. I started to understand what road blocks they constantly deal with. It was kind of sad. What was really funny about that though is that this guy was happy as f**k that he was even able to access/understand the internet.

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On the positive side, it’s got a discussion about accessibility going, wjhich is a sadly rare occurrence here. You’ve gone on to provide valuable insight into the use of screen readers and the need for accessibility planning in the design and development of websites.

(You might want to change the title of the thread to something which will encourage more folk to read it.)

Feel free

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I’ve done my best.


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