Accessibility & the Web

sign reading accessibility with a windy road

Last week Caitlin and I traversed down to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to participate in Environments for Humans (@E4H) Web Accessibility Conference. Our fearless leader has started teaching us in the ways of accessibility, but it’s been snippets here and there so this was a great opportunity to expand our knowledge even further (Mwa ha ha ha ha!).

There were eight speakers and topics that were covered. Here’s an overview –

HTML5 w/ Christopher Schmitt (@teleject)
Progressive Enhancement with ARIA w/ Aaron Gustafson (@AaronGustafson)
Accessibility and Compatibility w/ Jared Smith (@jared_w_smith)
Accessible CSS w/ Marla Erwin (@marlaerwin)
Practical Accessibility Testing w/ Glenda Sims (@goodwitch)
Future Trends in Accessibility w/ Daniel Hubbell (@rollyo11)
Mobile Accessibility w/ Derek Featherstone (@feather)
Is Universal Design Still Possible w/ Matt May (@mattmay)

Obviously I can’t cover everything that we learned but here are some of the takeaways I got.

People are different. One size doesn’t fit all.

We should all be aware of this, but when we approach a subject like accessibility there tends to be this one size fits all idea, which simply isn’t true. The needs of someone with a sight impairment is different than a hearing or physical impairment. If we don’t know our customers and their needs how can we think that we are really building anything for them?

It’s not are we dealing with disabled people. It’s how many people are we reaching & how many are we leaving behind. – Matt May

Accessibility impacts more people than we realize.

When the subject of accessibility comes up often it conjures images and ideas of someone who is blind using a screen reader or using voice commands to navigate, but the audience is much larger than we initially realize.
According to DiversityInc more than 1 in 5 Americans have a disability but not every accessibility issue is due to a handicap. In fact, Hubbell shared that 54% of the population ages 18-64 would benefit from some form of assistive technology.
This number should not be so surprising. I myself will many times turn captions on on my TV even though my hearing is fine. It started when my exchange daughter was living with me. She speaks English very well, but it was easier for her to follow screen conversations with subtitles/captions. Just this past week I was trying to figure out how to turn on captions on Direct TV  just because the conversations around me made it difficult to catch onscreen dialog.

Consider accessibility at every step in the project.

This shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it is a whole lot easier to plan in accessibility from the beginning that to try and add it in at the end. As Marla Erwin said, an accessible website starts from the design stage, not from the coding stage. Things like zoom, adjustable font, alt text, link clarity, clickable space, screenreaders and background colors all take a lot less development time to include from the beginning than to try to come back and address later.

If your boss doesn’t see the value in thinking about accessibility, feel free to point out to them that they’re missing out on a trillion dollar market, including $220 billion in discretionary income. It shouldn’t be the reason we build accessibility, but sometimes mentioning the potential market helps.

Compliance is not enough (even if its more than a lot of people are doing).

Compliance with accessibility standards doesn’t equal usability. Accessibility is about more than just checking off the compliance boxes Just play around with for a bit and you can see how some extremely compliant color combinations make your eyes cry out for mercy (it can’t just be mine).

The same can be said for alt text. Just throwing some random words in there isn’t going to make your site accessible. Thought needs to be put into the choice of text and it should convey the functional content of the image it belongs to.

Accessibility is about real people who live real lives. They are our neighbors, siblings, parents, grandparents, friends and co-workers. Their needs are as important as any other customer and as professions we need to care about more than if we meet the minimum requirements.

It is not enough to just hack around on these things. We need to get involved. – Matt May


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Deborah
    Oct 04, 2010 @ 17:23:16


    So glad to see you and Caitlin at the Accessibility Summit last week. What an amazing day! It was incredible how much information was shared by the speakers and the people attending on the conference chat and Twitter. Loved your comment in your post that one size doesn’t fit all.

    I hope we continue to carry on the conversation about accessibility with other events in Michigan. Given we had 90 people register in Ann Arbor, another 45 registered for the State of Michigan group in Lansing, and a couple dozen people at Cengage in Farmington Hills attending the online conference, it seems to me we have a need we could fulfill with more frequent accessibility-focused events.

    Whether that is an event coordinated by the MI UPA group, MSU or another group, I think we have the momentum to make it happen.


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  3. Trackback: Accessibility Webinar next week « Peter Ganza's Blog

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