Accessible websites and developer ignorance
written by craig, 16 October 2007
It was a real shame to read this article about ignorance of accessibility within the web development community.
What shocks me most is how accessibility is equated with “supporting blind users”. Whilst that’s important, accessibility is about supporting all users, no matter what browsing technology they use. A website that works on a wide variety of browsers, screen readers, PDAs, mobile phones, game consoles, and other devices will have a wider reach than one that does not.
That’s not an excuse developers can use today. The first W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines were published in 1999 and most browsers provide web standards support (even those that don’t will render fine if you use semantic HTML). It’s no longer the case that a usability and accessibility mean a trade-off against attractiveness and functionality.
I suspect that most anti-accessibility developers are not using web standards. Accessibility requires little additional effort if web standards and best-practice techniques are adopted. And standards provide many other benefits to developers and their clients…
- you require far less code, pages download quicker, and bandwidth requirements are significantly reduced
- your code is cleaner and easier to maintain
- your site can work in all browsers from IE1 (which didn’t even support tables!) through to Firefox 3.0. It won’t look the same, but the site remains usable and is future-proofed for new browsers.
- site-wide design updates can be simple and quick to implement
- the site is better optimised for search engines
- the site can be used by a wider audience and should comply with legal accessibility requirements
And the downsides…
If you’ve been developing table-based layouts for many years, then web standards are a step into the unknown. Content is not necessary coded the way that it appears on-screen and all the browsers have quirks.
Older WYSIWYG editors – and some newer ones – do not support standards either. However, with a little knowledge, you’ll find that hand-coding using a standard text editor is far quicker than any other solution.
Even if you equate accessibility with disabled users, a Direct Gov UK study estimates that 14% of users have motor or visual disabilities (and an aging technically-savvy population will increase that percentage). That is about the same proportion of users who use Firefox on mainstream UK sites.
It’s also worth remembering that disabled users have the most to gain from the Internet. Your visitor may have trouble visiting a high street shop, but they can still buy on the web … if your site allows them to.
It’s only a matter of time…
The case against Target.com in the US is being watched closely. And you can bet that lawyers are watching it the closest.
Whilst no UK or US website has been sued for flaunting the disability discrimination laws, it’s only a matter of time. And when that happens, the floodgates will open. I can see the daytime TV adverts now…
Have you had trouble using a website?
Call our legal team at Immoral, Despicable, and Loathsome today!
No one experiences the web like you
Finally, it is naive to think your site visitors act the same as you do:
- no one sees your site as you expect
- few use and navigate your site as you expect
- everything you create online is ripped apart by people and machines.
Make your website easy for everyone. You know it’s for the best.