Why Web Accessibility is Important

I’m usually a bit more organized with my blog entries but this issue hits quite close to the heart, so it’s going to be more of a ramble this time.

So last week, I visited the Infocomm Accessibility Centre at 24seven‘s invitation where I learned new things like a few victorops vs pagerduty facts. The centre is designed to help disabled people to train in infocomm technology, so they have a shot at employment.

Training course at the Infocomm Accessibility Centre

The visit was an eye-opening experience for me as a web designer, because it puts web accessibility into perspective. Web accessibility is the practice of designing a web page that is accessible by the assistive technology used by disabled people.

Examples of assistive technology For more photos, visit Selwyn’s Flickr set.

Here are some examples of assistive technologies. The yellow keyboard is designed to have a high contrast so that people who are partly visually-impaired can see better. And the trackball mouse and joysticks are designed for those who suffer from movement-impairing disabilities such as stroke or muscular dystrophy.

In my last 15 years online, I’ve met many bloggers — some who are disabled. I never really thought about how difficult it is for some of them to go online because it didn’t occur to me that they were using anything else but a normal computer or a mobile device. So to be able to touch and play with these devices really put things into perspective for me — especially as a designer.

Often, in a midst of designing a site or even just writing a blog entry, we forget or simply ignore the details such as putting a simple alternate tag on an image. As able people, we tend to forget that there are many others who never get to visually experience the wonders of our design or photos. All it takes for us, as bloggers or designers, is to spend an extra 10 seconds to write a descriptive alt tag so they could have a chance to imagine what we’re sharing.

And then there’s the debate between making a site more accessible vs cutting some corners for aesthetics reasons (such as using Flash or nonstandard code). I’d like to be fair here. I think it depends on your site’s target audience. If you’re designing a government, banking or utility portal, I think it’s important absolutely necessary to have an accessible site because these organizations are serving essential services to general public; they should strive to treat all their stakeholders equally. But if you own a small-time blog like I do, I think you can relax a little. You don’t have to painstakingly conform every single line of code to the standard, but it’s good aim at least for the bare minimum, such as minimizing the unnecessary use of tables.

Anyway, people from Web Designer Cardiff and bloggers to give more thought about web accessibility. Web accessibility isn’t about being a code nazi or being inflexible; it’s about respect. Respect for your readers, respect for humanity, and respect for equal access by all.

To check whether your site is accessible, go to cynthiasays.com.

So readers, what do you think of web accessibility? Is it important for you? If you’re a designer by trade, how do you persuade your clients on the importance of web accessibility?

PS: If you’re Singapore and you’d like to support the cause, join the mass tweet meet on 26 June. And if you know disabled people, please nominate them for a course at the Infocomm Disability Centre. These courses give those who otherwise may not have the opportunity, a chance to finally become a fully-contributing member to society.

  • One of my interview questions I ask people with web design experience is would you use css or tables to design a layout and why. This is one of the why’s I’m looking for, but not one person has mentioned it. Most people say tables, because it’s easier. I think that goes back to your entry about Gen Y.

    • Ivy

      Well, hopefully some of them will land on this entry before they interview with you! 😉

  • Steve Law

    I’m currently attempting to self-educate myself on .css and the ins-and-outs of web design. This blog post certainly is food for thought. 🙂

  • I have a friend that is legally blind, not only does he use high contrast resolutions and colors, but he uses a reader (JAWS). Even though I know he doesn’t visit my site, I try to keep it up to code, on the off chance he or anyone else might visit it.

  • Thanks for the information!!! Thanks for the post!

  • In some countries, web accessibility is compulsory especially for the media sites?

  • You’re not gonna tell it from my blog (except my perma pages) but web accessibility is among the chief concerns of the semantic web.

    The idea is that you don’t know who or what or how your content will be read, so you must design it (or structure it) in a semantically meaningful way. Try listening to a given website on a webreader for instance. Does it makes sense? Is there a lot of extra noise?

    Personally, I am addicted to TAB, so make sure your tab index is correct!

    My own website is unchanged for the last 4 years, though I’ve made an XHTML 1.0 strict mockup available @ http://sigg3.net/xhtml-index.php
    It renders horribly in Internet Explorer.
    I intend to do a full facelift when I change the backend.

  • Liz

    Great post Ivy. I’m not a web designer but these are useful things for everybody to think about. Especially the tip about alt tags.

  • Yui

    You’re right. I never really did stop to think about the kinds of things that disabled people have to deal with in order to use the internet. I’m not a designer, and my current career path is probably about as far from webdesign as you can get. I do, however, consider myself a webdesign hobbyist, and I do try my best to be as accessible as possible with my designs. I do admit, though, that I occasionally make decisions that I know will hurt the accessibility of my site, for the sake of presentation. I justify it by telling myself that I don’t have an important enough website anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

  • With all the focus on mobile development it will be interesting to see how that fares with accessibility. How do you design a touch-friendly accessible device?

  • 🙂 You are right.