Accessibility is so ’05

I mean, seriously, this is 2006.

Most web sites out there don’t abide to web standards, use table-based layouts and are JavaScript-dependant. If you work with web development and you still haven’t got a clue, I think all hope is gone. Then you must be sincerely devoted to not doing a good job, or stray from conventions just to spite.

If you write valid and semantic markup, and add JavaScript in an unobtrusive fashion, your web site has come a long way when it comes to accessibility and SEO as well. It’s all there, one big package of building something great.

If you don’t do it that way and aren’t willing to learn, I won’t bother you anymore. It’s your problem, and something you have to deal with.

Law enforcement

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t believe in laws enforcing accessibility. They can never be a 100% fair and balanced, and it’s a highly subjective matter. What is truly accessible? On the other hand I understand that when it comes to the public sector there has to be some regulations, when we’re dealing with matters about informing and facts that every citizen has a right to be able to get to. That I support.

For the private sector, however, I sincerely hope that reaching more visitors – thus getting more customers, getting a better search engine ranking, goodwill and actually doing the right thing should be incentive enough.

In the end, if companies choose to make their web sites inaccessible, it has to be their call. It’s their web site and they can do whatever they want with it. They will probably get bad press, like with Target, but I don’t think suing helps. Ultimately, my belief (read: vision) is that the market will cleanse itself; if you do things bad, people will choose another company to do their business with. Easy as that.

Accessibility consultants

On the other hand, we have people fighting for accessibility. Most of them good people doing it for a good cause, but sometimes their critique gets too harsh or is taken as being elitist, and that doesn’t help. Instead, companies being pointed out in such context don’t take it as constructive criticism, but instead as an attack and choose to ignore the people pointing out their flaws. It has to be done in a more respectful manner.

Also, critique is always aimed at the companies who it feels good to point the finger at. I’ve never seen anyone lash out at Flickr or Google Maps, although they don’t work properly with JavaScript disabled. The slideshow just goes dark in Flickr and Google Maps redirects you to a web page telling you that your web browser isn’t fully supported

Flickr slideshow with JavaScript disabled

A picture of a Flickr slideshow with JavaScript turned off

The Google Maps redirect page if JavaScript is disabled

A picture of the Google Maps redirect page if JavaScript is turned off

Why people leave them be? My guess is that people like Flickr so much and that Google Maps has got such a great API for building mash-ups, that they’re willing to overlook such things. Don’t. Be consistent.

A great initiative

Accessibility is often looked upon as something holding web development back, which isn’t true if it’s implemented in a correct manner. Also, some think that trying to make a web site accessible for people with any disabilities and/or platform means that it has to work exactly the same for everyone. It won’t. But make sure it degrades nice so everyone can at least partake of the information being given.

To me, just bashing inaccessible web sites doesn’t seem to do the trick. The people responsible just seclude themselves in their own shell, and hope the problem will go away. Instead, I applaud such initiatives as Accessites.org, which is about premiering good looking and functionally-wise excellent web sites that are at the same time accessible. I think that’s the way to do it, to show that something can be great and accessible.

14 Comments

  • I'm all in favour of legislation, and would even support a sliding scale of requirements with 'comply-by' dates. Since without legislation, there is no compelling case for any business or government to action change and improve their website's accessibility.

    I increasingly believe our only hope besides legislation is the mobile revolution – the business case for being accessible via 3G mobile phone or PDA may in the near future do more for accessibility than any organisation or legislation could hope to achieve.

  • Marco says:

    Devils Advocate mode:

    Why should we really bother with a minimal amount of people that have javascript disabled?

    I mean: We need a WEB BROWSER to access a website, right? No one is whining about this requirement. Then why is it a problem to require Javascript? It's not like Flickr for the blind would be very useful now is it?

    A friendly request to enable javascript in a noscript block would be nice though.

    The whole 'everything must work, even with ancient browsers with no CSS and no JS' movement is lovely but I can perfectly understand companies that decide not to bother with the tiny percentage of users who don't have it.

    If accessibility is a requirement I (and many web developers) have no problem making it happen but quite often it's hard or even impossible (think complex AJAX apps). Thing is, I just fail to see the requirement for sites like Flickr and Google Maps. For a government information site, sure thing. EVERYONE must be able to access that information. But Flickr? Google Maps? Nah….

  • Chris says:

    Robert, in your introduction you wrote about the accessibility-awareness of developers. But I learned that not only the developers need to be aware of the advantages of valid markup and unobstrusive javascript, but also the designers and conceptionists. Where I work we have different teams for these tasks. My boss does the concepts. He does not have the slightest clue about thechnical details. And therefore it's often hard to implement in a reasonable way what he had planned.

    @Devils Advocate:

    This is only one point. Two good points about valid markup and unobstrusive js are:

    – the code is easier to write, read and re-design

    – the code is lighter. Bandwidth costs money, slow sites cost users.

    I think there are more …

  • Joe Clark says:

    I know someone who has critiqued Flickr’s accessibility; optional features can fail with JavaScript off and the site can still pass.

  • Marco says:

    @Chris> I agree with everything you say about unobtrusive JS and valid markup. However this doesn't mean a site like Flickr would HAVE to work with JS disabled. That's an entirely different thing.

    I for one believe it's fine to require JS in advanced web applications. It doesn't mean we should use shitty code in them of course πŸ˜‰

  • Interesting post with an even more interesting title πŸ˜‰

    I share your views regarding legislation for commercial companies and private institutions. If it's not part of their original case, then it would be unfair to force them to comply to the extreme. However, because the government needs to serve every citizen, I do think it is important that the government is forced to pay attention to it.

    Just having read Joe Clark's comment — I find it odd that such cases pass. Looking at the Flickr and Google examples, how hard is it to be provide a proper fallback to the visitor helping them to get back on the road? Surely it doesn't mean that optional functionality is any less important in terms of accessibility? While optional functionality do not directly contribute to a visitor's primary goals, I find it rather rude that they're allowed to fail so badly.

  • Chris says:

    @Marco: I didn't want to say that requiring Javascript is always wrong. It depends on your target audience. And so it's OK for flickr to require JS.

  • Marco says:

    Chris> Then I guess we agree πŸ˜‰

    But Robert suggested in this article that requiring JS is always a bad thing πŸ™‚

  • Jules says:

    Accessibility and JavaScript is not simply a matter of turning off JavaScript and ensuring that the site works, it also has to be accessible with JavaScript enabled. I have heard that, in the common combination of JAWS and IE, JavaScript is enabled which means that the JavaScript functionality must be accessible.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    Well, then we disagree abotu legislation for private business. I hope it won't become necessary, and if it does, I really wonder how the laws will be balanced…

    Chris,

    …but also the designers and conceptionists.

    I agree, that's why I've always wanted the interface developer to become involved in the process as early as possible to have such discussions with the designers and concept makers. However, in the end, I do belive it mostly comes down to what way one chooses to implement a design or certain features.

    Chris, Marco,

    Well, that's the question, isn't it? Where do we draw the line, does everyting have to be accessible in some way with JavaScript disabled?

    Personally, I believe it takes small means to make a lot of currently JavaScript-dependant features on many web sites today accessible without JavaScript.

    But also, I definitely agree that there are web sites/web-based applications that are just too complex, where there's no way to mimick the experience in a good way for non-JavaScript users; for instance, web applications like Web operating systems.

    In the end, I think it's all about functionality, target audience and what one wants to achieve.

    Joe,

    I missed your post about that; valid points. I agree that not all features on a web site will have to work with JavaScript. However, in Flickr's case one should get a message in the slideshow page or alternatively not be able to get there.

    Just a black rectangle doesn't cut it for me.

    Jeroen,

    I'm glad that you share my point of view.

    I also agree about Flickr and Google Maps: a fallback in those cases wouldn't be that hard.

    Jules,

    Absolutely, valid point.

  • Chris says:

    Robert,

    Personally, I believe it takes small means to make a lot of currently JavaScript-dependant features on many web sites today accessible without JavaScript.

    That’s absolutely right. When I wrote about target-audience I did not mean that one has to depend on JS wantonly.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Chris,

    Cool, then we agree. πŸ™‚

  • Marco says:

    I guess we all agree. If it's trivial we should take care of it. If we're dealing with ultra-advanced web applications packed with AJAX it's just not a viable option anymore. The whole experience would be ruined without the Javascript.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Marco,

    Yes, that is at least the way I see it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *