Accessibility: Making it all worthwhile

Friday, October 19, 2007 23:48 | Filed in Accessibility, Disability, Equality

Sometimes being someone who is committed to web accessibility feels like it’s not a good thing.

You get the feeling people feel you’re some kind of zealot (even if you aren’t); you get the feeling that other people think that when you raise the issue of accessibility you’re being awkward or causing problems, that it’s something unwanted, that’s an extra chore you’re forcing them to add on to their developments.

That’s not what I feel, but it’s what I sometimes think other people feel. I don’t think I’m the only one to experience this: my old mate The Green Beast has described how the word ‘accessibility’ killed a book deal, and how he was discouraged from using the word ‘accessibility’ in a CSS tutorial, even when it was plainly appropriate to the point.

There’s also the whole swathe of attitudes towards the Target lawsuit (but that’s a post of it’s own).

In other words, if you’re someone who is passionate about web accessibility (however you define it); if you’re someone who believes that it is important for anyone who considers themselves to have a professional skill level in web development to be able to ensure that their sites aren’t discriminating against the disabled, you’re often made to feel like you’re some sort of out-on-a-limb zealot, instead of just being someone with a professional attitude who wants to do the job properly.

So sometimes it’s an unrewarding task.

But then every now and again, you come across a personal story that highlights the impact of web accessibility that makes it all worthwhile.

I read a feature on the BBC Ouch site today from Liz Ball, who describes how the internet was made for deafblind people, who gives some idea of the difficulties in trying to carry out day to day tasks such as shopping:

Imagine something as essential as buying food being so frustrating that one in four deafblind people went without food or medicine, according to a survey carried out by Sense and Deafblind UK in May 2000. Liz Ball

And she then talks about how web technologies — from email to online shopping — have transformed her life, with the aid of a refreshable braille display. She describes how she was able to use the internet for research in completing her PhD, how she is able to take part in online discussion forums, stay in communication with people, and generally do the sort of things that most non deafblind people would take for granted (apart from having a PhD of course, nobody loves a smart arse!).

And that’s why accessibility is important.

Because if the technologies are available to help deafblind people have a decent quality of life so long as we make our websites accessible to them, then it’s nothing short of morally corrupt if we don’t.

Accessibility doesn’t require much in the way of effort (although it does require you to think occassionally). If the choice is between having a society where deafblind people are capable of contributing and taking part in that society, against a socierty where deafblind people find obtaining food and medicine so frustrating that one in four of them would rather go without these essentials from time to time, I know which one I’d choose.

The one with accessible websites.

So thanks Liz. Thanks for reminding me of the real reasons why I do what I do.

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21 Comments to Accessibility: Making it all worthwhile

  1. Mike Cherim says:

    October 20th, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Like some zealot or troublemaker. Sigh. That’s how it feels sometimes. The masses can’t be bothered, and God help you if you bring it up in mixed company. It’s not easy wearing a white hat. Thanks for posting this Jack.

  2. Ryan Benson says:

    October 20th, 2007 at 7:35 am

    Where I work, I am slowly getting e-mails to the effect of you’re that guy who knows accessibility stuff right? A few years ago I felt like the trouble maker, still do sometimes…

  3. Seb Crump says:

    October 20th, 2007 at 11:26 am

    I’m totally with you on the concerns about other’s perceptions of you.

    I’ve recently changed jobs; I’m no longer on the front-line and having to tell people they can’t do that and it’s a great relief. I’m also glad that I can take a break from the argumentative world of accessibility – or at least I feel and be far more selective about what I choose to be involved with, rather than it being my job to try and get involved with everything.

    Liz Ball’s article is interesting and I shall certainly keep it my arsenal of links to send people who don’t get why it’s important. It is, however, not the answer for every situation (of course, and there is no reason it should be). The frustration and difficulty I find is arguments like “blind people can’t join the [armed forces or similar career], so none of that matter, we don’t have to be accessible”, ie. people like Liz are not in the target audience and therefore accessibility is not relevant. The counter argument I, and others I’m sure, trot out is the “right to everyone to access the information”, seems a little tired.

    I think the main problem is the lack of understanding or appreciation about “reasonableness”. Personally I try to take the middle link and posit that it is not necessarily appropriate that everything is totally accessible. This has been even more difficult though; I sometime feel like being persecuted from both sides (rather like I understand bisexuals are).

    I should probably stop ranting now before I start getting into a dozen examples – perhaps you’re right Jack I need my own blog, but I’m trying to get away from the accessibility debate for the moment. Hmmm, I don’t think that’s going to happen somehow…

  4. Karl says:

    October 22nd, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Thanks for a good (Monday) read Jack. I’m definitely the troublemaker at work when senior managers don’t see the need for an accessible Intranet, for example. Being reminded of who we’re actually working for with real-life examples certainly helps to keep on going.

  5. Rob Mason says:

    October 22nd, 2007 at 1:49 pm


  6. Andy Mabbett says:

    October 23rd, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    As I’ve said before: I don’t know anyone who can guarantee that they won’t have a disability tomorrow.

  7. Dan Comden says:

    October 23rd, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks for that. Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against walls trying to get developers to pay attention to accessibility. Good to have some affirmation that what we’re doing really does matter to real people.

  8. Dave says:

    October 26th, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    What would make it all worthwhile for me is to hear from a user of my co.’s site. We all agree here that accessibility is good, but it’s hard to justify spending great amounts of time when we’ve never had any request for more/better or any thanks for what we already do…is it really helping anyone?

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