Why accessibility?

Seems like a pretty easy question to answer, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. If you look further than the obvious standpoint, that of course one wants every web site to be accessible and usable by everyone. From a perspective based on respecting and catering to people with different needs, accessibility is a given.

However, let me give you some background first by pointing you to two good articles Roger has written:

Accessibility myths and misconceptions
A good summary of building accessible web sites.
Accessibility charlatans
About people jumping the bandwagon stating that they create accessible web sites to get PR and make money, and then ignorant journalists that don’t do proper fact-checking support their claims.

With that as our canvas, enter the business factor. Sure, WAI is the hype word for the moment for IT sales men, but I’m sorry to say this: I still haven’t had the opportunity to work in a project that offers an accessible web site, or even a project that has had that set as a goal. For instance, take the project I work in right now: It’s a web site based on a Microsoft .NET-based CMS product from one company, with the addition of extensions from yet another company.

My problems:

  • To start, we all know that Microsoft .NET generates code that can’t be validated as strict XHTML or HTML.
  • The CMS product generates some invalid code on top of .NET’s plus the fact that it has a WYSIWYG tool based on Microsoft’s contenteditable property, which, to say the least, generates terrible code.
  • To top it off, the extensions mentioned above use span tags as the ultimate block level element, encompassing everything (span tags are inline elements, you morons).

There’s too little time and money (as always) in the project, so there simply isn’t any window of opportunity or incentive for any system developer to fix the .NET errors. And even if that had been taken care of, we would still have the WYSIWYG and extension problems. So, with that in mind, accessibility isn’t even on the agenda. And we’re talking about a web site that has roughly 60 000 – 70 000 visitors per day!

And, from my experience, this is not an uncommon situation at all. Generally, when you present the accessibility factor to a company, they want it “in the package”, but they’re not ready to pay anything more for it nor allow for any extra testing. Most companies (and visitors that don’t need the accessibility enhancements) are happy if the web site in question displays somewhat correctly. They don’t give a damn if it follows web standards, uses correct semantics or is accessible to people with other needs. The companies normally seem to think that the percentage of visitors they lose in not being accessible doesn’t make up for the time and testing it takes to go that extra mile (no notice taken to the bad will this will create, however).

A very current example: Jens Wedin works for a company whose web site just was elected the best government web site in Sweden. And, as he states:

Take note that the site do not follow web standards, is using frames, do not validate, have a lot of accessibility problems.

I have no doubt that Jens will do his best to push things in the right direction in the future, he seems like a knowledgeable person, but the fact still stands that its current state didn’t keep it from getting first place. Another example that seems to come up is Google. Do a search for Robert Nyman, and it returns a page with 437(!) warnings/errors (Ironically, a MSN search, of all web sites, returns a valid XHTML Strict page, although not sent with the application/xhtml+xml doctype, but that’s a discussion for another day). This gives people the argument that:

Well, Google seem to do pretty good. And if they don’t care about web standards or accessibility, why should we?

I don’t really know how to argue with that. Even if every web interface developer in the whole world would know how to create accessible web sites, we still need to convince businesses, customers and decision makers to take it into consideration, to sell the idea of accessibility to the ones that ultimately make the call!

How do we do that?


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