Monday, March 09, 2009

Share your Experience with Web Accessibility

I've started my research for my master's thesis and would really appreciate your help. I'm researching why aren't more Canadian websites accessible for disabled people.

I'm talking to web professionals in Canada about their experiences and thoughts on this issue so that hopefully recommendations can be made to encourage adoption of this issue in a manner that is realistically achievable.

Please share your experiences on this issue here.
Questions about web accessibility
  • What are the challenges of making a website accessible?
  • What support would you need?
  • Have you heard of W3C's guidelines (WCAG)? Thoughts?
  • Is your site accessible? Why? Why not?
  • What's your experience - pro or con?
Any thoughts, criticisms, suggestions, or experiences you have on this issue, I'd love to know.

Please note that comments included below may be used in my research and published. Please read more about my research and the provision of your consent to participate. Replying below indicates you agree to participate.


Renee said...

Ok, here's my take: I don't know why any web designer would make a site that was NOT accessible.

Two reasons:

1. When you work in an industry and that industry has professional standards, even if they are voluntary, you can't really consider yourself a professional if you don't follow those standards!

2. It's not hard to make a site accessible! Particularly if it's taken into consideration early in the design stage.

There are so many technologies out there that make it easy to create things that look great but that degrade gracefully (jQuery, for instance, can even do the sorts of animation that Flash can do, using in-place CSS and HTML page elements. As long as the design doesn't depend on the fancy, it doesn't affect the experience of the site in a screen reader) that I don't think there is an excuse any longer not to create standards-compliant, accessible websites – overused as it was, Flash did have its uses; but when it was the right tool, it was an enormous pain to make accessible. That is no longer the case.

I CAN understand little things slipping through, like alt tags and input form labels, but most CMSes these days can be configured to require those. On the other hand, many CMSes until recently did not output standards-compliant code either, so some lag time in adoption of newer standards is fair.

I discovered awhile ago that often, the barrier to standards-compliance is simply web-designer disinterest. There are many of us who came to the field because we liked mucking around with websites, rather than through any kind of training program, so knowledge and experience varies wildly throughout the industry.

Often we are the only person in a workplace who understands the web "under the hood." As technical professionals we have a lot of power to bamboozle or overwhelm and, often, management neither gets nor cares about the web except insofar as it is a tool. Why wouldn’t they trust the expert to create something that's good? Management can’t make decisions on options that aren’t presented to them, on things they don’t know to ask about.

Glen Farrelly said...

Hi Renee:

Thanks so much for your feedback.

You raise valid points but I do have some notes on your points (as you numbered them).

1)Do you think most web managers are aware of the accessibility standards? Who's responsibility is it to make these standards known - business, government, disabled advocacy groups, the Internet industry, or web professionals themselves. Frankly, I think all the above have done a poor job of raising the profile of these standards and making them known as professional standards as you state they should be considered.

2) I do agree with you that making a site accessible is mostly not that difficult. And I think too many web professionals overstate how complicated it is. That said, adding captions to videos is by no means simple, nor is the accessibility considerations for Flash.

And W3C WCAG - just wading through it is a herculean task. Anyone that reads the entire thing should be given an award.

I think you raise a crucial aspect to this issue in that "management can’t make decisions on options that aren’t presented to them".

Definitely yes, web professionals need to step up and bring this to management's attention and in a way that doesn't terrify them with overblown estimates of the cost. But also the W3C has done and awful job of making their standards understandable - dare I say it - they're not accessible!

Renee said...

Hi Glen,

In answer to your question "Do you think most web managers are aware of the accessibility standards? Who's responsibility is it ...?"

Yes, I do think most managers are aware of the standards, but I think that they make decisions about them the same way they make decisions on no longer supporting IE 5.5 or using a PHP framework vs. ColdFusion - ie: they treat it as an audience size / maintenance issue, rather than an ethical imperative or standard of practice.

I think it is the responsibility of all of the folks you listed to make this an issue, but it's ultimately a culture thing. I almost fell over backwards when I moved to Ontario from BC and discovered that most low-rise apartments don't have elevators and most stores are a step up without a ramp. Why? Because handicapped access is not a legislative priority in Ontario like it is in BC, and so it's not a business priority. There's no progressive culture putting pressure on business or government, so it doesn't happen, and the client base is small enough that the cost outweighs the "benefits."

Now, that being said, I'm loathe to advocate for legislation of this sort of thing on the web, because ... oh, for so many reasons. But maybe a tax credit ... =) Seriously, though, I think the key is a cultural shift, and that takes everybody. Demographics will help some - people with low vision, for instance, are becoming more prevalent as the boomers grow older, and money drives institutional change.

"And W3C WCAG - just wading through it is a herculean task..."

True, but there are tools like IBM's aDesigner out there that can tell you pretty quickly whether or not a site is nominally accessible! And following XHTML Strict goes a long way too. That's why I attribute it not to a lack of knowledge that standards exist, but to a difference in priority instead. Maybe I'm wrong, though - I'd be interested in seeing what you find!