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1. I think accessibility is a great thing. Don't think that I don't spend days at a time trying to make my sites as broadly accessible as possible.
2. This could be easily construed as an ANTI-accessiblity thread. If you take issue with that, please be sure to read my post thoroughly before hauling off on me.
What better time than the beginning (well, for this forum anyway) to discuss theory of the concept rather than the application of it? Make no mistake- the THEORY of accessibility is socio-political. It is only the APPLICATION of accessibility that involves technology, writing code, solving design issues, etc. And the concept, while only a few years young in the realm of web sites, has been gaining steam for decades now in American society. But that "everyday life" version of accessibility, while rooted in the noble ideals of leveling the playing field for everyone, has begun to cross the line, becoming unnecessarily PC… the purpose of this post is to hopefully play a small part in stopping what could inevitably become a deluge of accessibility overkill, where your website is expected to be accessible to housepets who discover your website by trotting across the keyboard and mistakenly keying in your domain name with their feet.
To me, part of the problem here is that there's a stench of McCarthyism about accessibility… "What? You don't have alternatives for blind people on your photography portfolio site? I bet you like to kick babies too, don't you! Racist pig!" Despite what DrDoc stated in his excellent post "What exactly are Accessibility and Useability", I disagree that every web site owes it to the user to be as accessible as humanly possible (perhaps I misread your words, DrDoc, but this was my inference of your stance).
There was a South Park episode wherein a character had plastic surgery to become a dolphin… later on in that episode, the character made a big fuss (threatening to sue) over a sports arena not having a bathroom for dolphins, only for men and women. Is that a comically exaggerated scenario? Of course. But what if that really happened? What could you as the sports arena owner possibly say to that man/dolphin hybrid that would get you out of that lawsuit? The fact is your sports arena is utterly inaccessible to a tiny tiny percentage of the population.
So it begs the question- how accessible is TOO accessible? You're a fool if you think that there won't always be one person, one scenario, that you can't account for on the web (or in the rest of life for that matter). Should you really be spending all that time to ensure that your blind users (yes i know, easy example to pick on) can browse a degraded version of your online photography portfolio? What possible use could they get out of such a site?
What about people who don't read/speak English? The percentage of Hispanics in this country is skyrocketing… do they have a case against you if they can't read your website? I think multilingual sites are a necessity for the future… but that responsibility falls on the users' side rather than the designers' side, where hopefully a software company will come out with an extremely intelligent translation tool that can translate surfed pages in real-time. Whatever the technology may be, it will have to come TO the website, rather than be delivered FROM it. It is totally unreasonable to demand that web designers translate their content into 40 languages.
And what of pornographic sites? So much time is spent going blindly in the other direction for those sites-. blocking people, denying access, etc. Could you sue a pornography site for not having an alternative to that drop-down Age Verification thing, and then sue them AGAIN because their alternative was a simple link into the site that you shouldn't have viewed in the first place because you were under 18?
I think what we have here is the wrong term. Accessibility is not it. Responsibility is the term we want. Every public display has an INTENDED audience and an INCIDENTAL audience. I say that we have a responsibility to our intended audience to make our sites useful to them. We are creating content with them in mind; how can we not DELIVER that content with them in mind? But the incidental audience… that is where you run into these unreasonable demands and extenuating circumstances. It is the intended audience that we have to take responsibility for when making accessible websites… beyond that, you're just doing a good deed for the rest of the world, and while that is enviable, it is certainly not necessary. Technical forums like these would be the poster children for inaccessibility if accessibility were independent of audience, because we spend all day using insider terms, abbreviations, and acronyms, ASSUMING that the user will understand them simply because they are browsing in an area meant for people who understand. Everyone is not welcome everywhere, and I wouldn't want to live in a world where the contrary was the case, because nothing would ever get done.
That's my two (thousand) cents. Thanks for taking the time to read.
Let me begin by addressing your comment about my post: What exactly are Accessibility and Usability? [webmasterworld.com]. Accessibility is not about guaranteeing everyone the ability to use your site. It is about removing barriers that would otherwise needlessly prevent accessibility for some.
I stand by my implied statement that there is no reason why anyone should regard accessibility and usability as optional. As I see it, there is only one valid reason for anyone not to make a site accessible: "I don't know how!" All it takes is knowledge and the willingness to at least make the effort. Once you have knowledge about accessibility and usability issues, you can at least avoid adding additional barriers which might prevent others from successfully using your site.
I like your analogy with the dolphin, and will use that as an example in post as well. Like you already mentioned, anyone who thinks that there's some magic you can employ which would allow everyone 100% of the experience of any given site is gravely mistaken. You mention a photography portfolio ... Let's take it one step further: what about a video gallery and a deaf-and-blind user? There is no way you can allow this user to fully enjoy the video clips. Can anyone expect you to? No. Would the deaf-and-blind user be able to sue you in court for not allowing them to experience the video clip? No. Just like the dolphin would not (in reality) have a case against the sports arena, the deaf-and-blind user would not (barring insane judges) have a case against the video clip site. True, there's a very important difference between the two examples. The dolphin himself is the cause of the problem. The deaf-and-blind certainly is not the cause of those disabilities. Despite disabilities, we are all humans, we all deserve the same rights. But there's rhyme and reason involved. A person with a heart condition can not expect the owner of a thrill ride to make the ride safe for him. Nor can a blind expect to become a licensed pilot.
But, let's take a step back for a second ... Let's imagine for a moment that I operate the video clip site. What measures can I reasonably be expected to take to be "accessible"? Wherein lies my responsibility, knowing that I cannot possibly make such a site 100% accessible to everyone under all circumstances? That's what we are talking about, right? What is a reasonable requirement for me, as a site owner/developer? What can I do to be able to call myself accessible, but without going broke doing so?
I would like to cite a few important sentences from my post referred to by you (and myself, earlier in this post).
[Accessibility] is about lowering the barriers for everyone.
Are you going to turn [anyone] down based on a disability? Accessibility is about empowering your visitors!
How can I apply that to my video clip site? To, again, cite myself:
Accessibility means not turning anyone away, regardless of browser, internet connection speed, education, disabilities, personal preferences.
First we must realize accessibility is not just about those with disabilities. You can work yourself black and blue trying to account for every single disability there is, without ever coming close to a solution. The reason why? You have already missed the most important lesson which can be learned: Accessibility is not just about disabilities. Yes, that is where it is most easily examplified and understood. Yes, that's where you can really make or break on your efforts. But various disabilities should not be your initial focus when striving towards an accessible site.
Where to start then?
To consider the video clip site ... There are numerous things to consider:
1) deaf-and-blind users (that's what sparked the thought process, right?)
2) people with slow internet connection
3) people who may or may not want to view this particular clip
4) search engines
And these are but a few things to consider! Do you see the diversity we have to deal with?
Let's begin by addressing an example which everyone will understand -- search engines. We all want to be listed in the search engines. We all want people to be able to find our site through a search engine.
Well, search engines are probably the most "disabled" users you will ever find! They are both deaf and blind, they cannot use mouse-over functionalities (in fact, they don't even use a mouse!), they cannot easily figure out what your site is about in a human-intuitive way ...
Provide a brief (or detailed, if you want) overview/summary/synopsis as a textual description for each video clip. Make the video clip itself be triggered by a link or similar.
What have we just accomplished? Not only have we provided text which the search engine can use to figure out what the clip is about, but we have also provided a solution for those with slow internet connections (no auto-loading of a 5MB clip) along with a solution for those who may be indecisive as to whether to view the clip or not (here's a description for you ... like it, click here ... dislike it, go away). And, in doing so, we have also made the site reasonably accessible.
Provide content that, when presented to the user, conveys essentially the same function or purpose as auditory or visual content.
The power of text equivalents lies in their capacity to be rendered in ways that are accessible to people from various disability groups using a variety of technologies. Text can be readily output to speech synthesizers and braille displays, and can be presented visually (in a variety of sizes) on computer displays and paper. Synthesized speech is critical for individuals who are blind and for many people with the reading difficulties that often accompany cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, and deafness. Braille is essential for individuals who are both deaf and blind, as well as many individuals whose only sensory disability is blindness. Text displayed visually benefits users who are deaf as well as the majority of Web users.
Seems simple, doesn't it?
You are not responsible for providing the synthesized speech or braille for the users with impairments or disabilities requiring such output. You simply need to do two things:
1) remove any barriers which would make such output impossible
2) provide the base foundation for additional tools the user may have to utilize
Now, take my next statement with a grain of salt ...
Design for search engines. If they can access your content, your site is much more likely to be accessible to those with disabilities.
Now, to summarize, I would just like to cite some excellent points you made. I apologize beforehand for changing the context slightly.
You're a fool if you think that there won't always be one person, one scenario, that you can't account for.
Whatever the technology may be, it will have to come TO the website, rather than be delivered FROM it. It is totally unreasonable to demand that web designers [account for all possible disabilities].
So much time is spent going blindly in the other direction.
Responsibility is [what] we want. Every public display has an INTENDED audience and an INCIDENTAL audience. I say that we have a responsibility to our intended audience to make our sites useful to them. We are creating content with them in mind; how can we not DELIVER that content with them in mind? But the incidental audience... that is where you run into these unreasonable demands and extenuating circumstances. It is the intended audience that we have to take responsibility for when making accessible websites...
Technical forums like these would be the poster children for inaccessibility if accessibility were independent of audience, because we spend all day using insider terms, abbreviations, and acronyms, ASSUMING that the user will understand them simply because they are browsing in an area meant for people who understand. Everyone is not welcome everywhere, and I wouldn't want to live in a world where the contrary was the case, because nothing would ever get done.
[edit reason: tpyo]
[edited by: DrDoc at 9:12 pm (utc) on Mar. 22, 2006]
Accessibility is a general category within a very broad data usability topic. The very first design consideration is that not everyone needs, wants, or should be exposed to everything. Limits are normal including upon accessibility.
We look at it from a content purveyors role because that is what we do. But it includes users, user agents, applications (i.e. text and wysiwyg editors), plus a multitude of standards, regulations, and laws...
Just as users have varying accessibility requirements so does each and every site. Being cross-browser viewable is an accessibility issue. Meeting a legal requirement (i.e. government sites) is another.
It is unlikely that private (non-govermental) sites will be forced to meet an accessibility law. There are simply too many jurisdictions. And moving is too easy.
Also restriction is totally acceptable: we already limit access by membership log-in, encryption, language, literacy, url, etc. Restriction by intent is not 'the' accessibility problem. What is is restriction by ignorance or incompetence or laziness.
Mismatch of character encoding, wysiwyg and cms coding atrocities, user agent display discrepancies are greater accessibility problems than non-semantic markup or non-degrading images/objects, styles/scripts or DocType or other 'on page' consideration. Though the latter are often simplier to 'fix' by virtue of being within our control.
The only site requirement is its scope. Sometimes legal, mostly defined through ROI and personal preference. Approximately a third of users have some web disability - which segment(s) are potential customers, which are not?
That said it is much simplier and much cheaper to do it (however you define 'it') right from the start. Retooling or redesigning is a royally expensive pita.
Plus graceful transformation is a sign of a professional and it feels good to be proficient at one's trade.
"What? You don't have alternatives for blind people on your photography portfolio site? I bet you like to kick babies too, don't you! Racist pig!"
I am an equal opportunity misanthrope. :-)
Blind people do buy for sighted friends and family and recommend or disparage just like their sighted compatriots. Note that adding appropriate long description pages is adding content...two birds with one stone...common with usabilty improvements.
Provide a brief...overview/summary/synopsis.... [R]emove any barriers which would make [specialized end-user software] output impossible [and] provide the base foundation for additional tools the user may have to utilize.... Design for search engines.
[A]dding appropriate long description pages is adding content.
A site is accessible unless a webmaster deliberately takes extra time and effort to build in barriers to accessibility.
But it is not the web designers i'm concerned about... it's the pundits, the lobbyists, the lawsuit-happy... can't you all see yourselves in a client meeting 8 months from now...
"And make sure this site works for deaf people who use Macs."
"But.. your site is a library for Windows event sounds..."
"Just make it happen geek. We don't want to get sued."
I just worry that if we all put "accessibility" on a pedestal, proclaiming to our clients how necessary it is and the like, we'll end up creating a monster that gets taken over by PC (politically correct, not personal computer) thugs who would rather see a website work acceptably for that one percent minority than have the website work wonderfully for the remaining 99%.
Granted, some of the latest "technology" is really the best of both worlds, which is why we have embraced it so. CSS, AJAX, etc... these new ideas (not new at all of course, but still somehow in their infancy) are usually win/win situations, and the ability to use them is indeed what separates the "future-proof" designers from the clueless ones.
Unfortunately, technologies that are win/win are few and far between. More often than not, there will be a trade-off between performance and accessibility. And @victor, I really don't care what Tim Berners-Lee has to say about that, because it's an age-old social dilemma that goes beyond the web: do you feed your healthiest cattle and let the weak die off, or do you divide the food amongst all so that none are starving and none are full? Do you challenge the smartest kids in the class, or do you nurture the struggling ones by dumbing-down the lesson plan? Do you spend your money on a website that blows away IE users, or spend it on a site that thrills no one but welcomes everyone? In some cases, you can have it all on the web... but in many scenarios, the time, knowledge, and money is simply not there. A choice has to be made. And i would not want some legislation or fear of legal action making that decision for me.
My idealistic goal would be for all of us to become wizards of accessibility design, without ever mentioning it to a client. Just design the site, and take pride in the knowledge that nearly everyone will be able to use it. But don't make it into the latest web-craze... don't make it a buzz-word at golf outings, or a claim to fame of an e-commerce juggernaut.
One advantage of working outside of the US is that the legal atmosphere is less crazed. But I do see accessibility being treated either as a fad or as a political 'need' rather than as one of many necessary site considerations.
While I have not encountered
"And make sure this site works for deaf people who use Macs."
"But.. your site is a library for Windows event sounds..."
There are always those who go to extremes. Providing no one is hurt or scares the horses such people should be commended for showing the rest of us where the cliff edges truly are.
Actually I like the accessibility nuts. Just as I like the all-Flash nuts, the nested-table nuts, the best-viewed-in nuts, the out-of-date SEO nuts, the font-attribute nuts, various flavours of SERP and ad and affiliate nuts...
Sadly only a few web-geeks care about anything except 'what ROI have you done for me today and how much better will you do for me tomorrow'. Especially on a golf course.
Creating the original content takes greater time and effort than "just" creating the original content and additionally creating the extra content and software accommodation...?
Yes, more is less :-)
Increasing accessibility often takes more time than not but frequently there are returns beyond mere 'accessibility' such as increased uniques and additional site content.
What is missed by so many is that accessibility is but a component of a site. It is not an end in itself. It is one of the means by which you accomplish the end of having a successful site.
The sign of great accessibility is that if something doesn't work there is something else to do do the job. Graceful failure. No jumble, no nothing.
Who is your site for? What do they need to use the site? Meeting those needs is accessibility. It is really that simple. Of course simple is not necessarily easy.
So... a perceived lack of accessibility means that the webmaster "deliberately took extra time and effort" to not provide the various additional services and content...?
I wouldn't say extra time ... just time, period. By default, a plain text site is accessible. Once you deviate from that, you either maintain accessibility, or you omit it. The only two reasons for omitting accessibility is ignorance and deliberately not providing alternative content. By doing the latter, you are also shooting yourself in the foot by not providing any meat for search engines.
Finally ... We will never see a law requiring a private website to be accessible. We probably will not ever (or at least for a long time) see a law requiring corporate websites to be accessible.
I like this.
I've said before in posts that if tableless designs and now full accessibility were reqiremets to publish a web site, there would be no web. 95% of the world's web sites would have to be removed and never get put back up.
Is it a good idea to do both those things? Yes.