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.
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.
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, I hope this entry will inspire other web designers 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.