Web Accessibility Epiphany

First, I will say that this is my 100th post. When I started blogging earlier this year, I set a personal goal of hitting 100 posts by the end of the year. I am just barely going to make it. Actually, I could have crushed my goal if I had made more time for blogging, and in 2009 I am going to set a goal of 200 more. We'll see.

Thanks to all who have been reading and commenting. I've learned a lot doing this, and I hope that you have benefited from it as well. I look forward to continuing and learning more. And please if you have questions or comments, I love to read, and respond to, them.

Accessibility and Me

So one thing that I have been touting for a long time is making accessible websites. Those that work with me will tell you that I regularly point out the importance of creating accessible sites and I even offer the occasional tip or two on making our sites more accessible. Then I shown how little I really know.

As you may have read, last week I attended the MN Government IT Symposium. The symposium had a full day of accessibility sessions. I went to all of them. They were all excellent I got an amazing amount out of them, but what really made me view accessibility differently was a presentation from Phil Kragnes.

Functional Accessibility

Phil's presentation was on "functional accessibility", and the main point, from my perspective, was that you can employ any number of little things (like alt and title elements), but if those things do not work together as a whole to make your site usable to person who needs them, then you are not making your site functionally accessible. It may pass compliance tests for WAI or Section 508 and still be inaccessible because it lacks that synergy of functional accessibility.

What really opened my eyes was Phil's demonstration of using the JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reading software to browse websites that were not designed with accessibility in mind. It was grueling to watch and while the presentation example was staged, I could very easily see how frustrating it could be for someone who could not simply look at the screen to see where they were to try to figure out what was going on.

So what can I do about it?

Well, the first thing I can do is to make a real effort to learn more about functional accessibility and to make my sites work for as many people as I can.

But that is not good enough for me. So the next logical step is to share what I learn, through my blog and through presentations and evangelism. As I learn more, I will post about it, and I am going to try to get a good presentation together for user groups.

I would love to hear from any with experience here. Or if you don't have experience, maybe questions that you would like answers to. This is a topic that we should all be concerned about.

I would also love to hear from anyone who uses assistive technologies to "view" websites to find out what things are most frustrating and annoying.

Dan Sorensen's Gravatar Very good point.

A big challenge is no inexpensive, clear choice for designing/testing sites against (other than the WAI compliance site). As it is, we must test against multiple browsers/versions/devices that make up the majority of our traffic. I also champion accessibility for my organization, but it's difficult since the target software/audience is so far off the radar that the developers rarely have access to it.
# Posted By Dan Sorensen | 12/26/08 3:32 PM
Glyn Jackson's Gravatar Accessibility and Usability for websites and applications is very close to my heart. I have given talks on this subject to my local university @ design students. There was a guy I once met that also give talks on Accessibility he was blind and used a text-to-speech browser he had it so fast I could not make out a word. What a comapny needs to understand is that there are millions and millions of users that have a disability like dyslexia, sight problems, or cannot use a mouse etc. These people are customers that come are missing out on. For example an online butcher website, since her site was made accessible orders have gone up 5k per month, why because she did not know sopme of the customers who purchase on-line are customers that can no longer get to the supermarket our are old and have sight problems.
# Posted By Glyn Jackson | 12/26/08 4:25 PM
Chris's Gravatar Here is a nice alterative to JAWS: http://www.satogo.com/. It's free and does a pretty good job. I have some other info, but it is at work. I will post it here when I go back to work.
# Posted By Chris | 12/26/08 4:58 PM
Steve Withington's Gravatar To add to the frustration is the often difficult dialog between those of us who care about usability, etc. with those who design the interface and such.

Some of my biggest frustrations come out when a graphic designer hands off a beautiful piece of "art" which includes 8 pixel typeface, etc. and simply wants me to bring it to life (without any input from little ole' me, the developer who happens to care a great deal about usability and accessibility).

Few companies want to spend the extra time and effort to truly make an application "usable," they are often more concerned about how it "looks."

Much of this stems from the fact that many of the sites being developed today are done by people in their 20's with great eyesight, perfect hearing, etc. and know very few, if any, people with disabilities.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, and I look forward to reading more.
# Posted By Steve Withington | 12/27/08 10:56 AM
Glyn Jackson's Gravatar Just read my post back, very sorry about the mistakes, it was boxing day and a few drinks now lol. I think you get what I was trying to say anyhow :)
# Posted By Glyn Jackson | 12/27/08 12:34 PM
Ben Nadel's Gravatar Jason, congratulations on your 100th post! It's been great having your blog in the mix. Your security postings and your framework examples have been great :) Here's to another great year!
# Posted By Ben Nadel | 12/28/08 2:11 PM
Dan Sorensen's Gravatar RE: design affecting usability...

I have the same experience here. The designer often has the biggest monitor as well, and rarely considers how the design will work at a smaller resolution. Lately, I can ask them to view the design on their web enabled phone which has a much smaller resolution.
# Posted By Dan Sorensen | 12/29/08 8:09 AM
Jason Dean's Gravatar Wow, what a great response. Thank you everyone for your comments.

I hear what you guys are saying about design and accessibility not always going hand-in-hand. That is one of the things I most want to look at.

@Chris, thanks for the alternative. I will take a look at that.

@Steve, great observations. You're right. Designers are, many times, young. They also aspire to show they're best work, which can be hard, if not impossible, for many users to "view".

@Ben, Thanks for the kind words.

@Dan, great idea. I never realized the display problems with my blog until I viewed it on my phone.
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