Web Accessibili-What?

What percentage of people use the closed captioning function on their TVs at home? The technology has been standardized to the point where it would be preposterous to broadcast without closed captioning. TV plays a pivotal role in home entertainment and news. Why shouldn’t it be accessible to those with disabilities? In today’s fast growing technological environment, it is clear to see that the use computers and more importantly the internet, play an important role in the lives of everyday people. The span of information and functionality on the web is almost to the point of necessity. We use it to find jobs, to do work, to learn and participate in school, to communicate, to share, and to entertain ourselves. When compared to what people use TV for, it’s hard to imagine that the same standards don’t apply.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has worked hard to push the standardization of web accessibility. With the creation of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), the W3C has put its best foot forward in educating business and web developers of the importance of web accessibility. Their website acts as a hub for design resources and best practices, as well as a forum for solving complex web accessibility challenges. New challenges arise along with the wide adoption of new technology that focuses on interactive experiences for the typical web user by manipulating content on the client’s end. JavaScript, AJAX, and Flash heavy websites prove to be a challenge to those who require the aid of assisting technology in order experience the content on the page.

No one can dispute the need for wide acceptance and implementation of web accessibility standards. There are about 60 million people in the U.S. alone who cannot utilize a computer in order to use the internet in a normal fashion. This is no shortage of users that can be simply neglected when running a business online. The question is then, why are more companies not investing proper standards compliant development? I speculate that the answer has to do with major flaws in the typical web design life cycle.

The first, simply being oversight in the planning stages. Many successful internet based companies don’t start with standard iterative design process. Depending on the product, the focus is either on some innovative back-end functionality, or flashy front-end development that draws attention. As these products become successful, new version as built on old version until so much time and money has been put into it that a complete overhaul and redesign for overlooked accessibility standardization would be far too expensive. The best way to solve this type of problem is, for large, successful internet companies to take the initiative and lead the way in best practices. Yahoo! has a mandatory accessibility training program that all new developer employees must go through. Google has invested into an automatic captioning for YouTube videos in order to make it much easier for deaf people to enjoy the same procrastination tool that many web users have been able to use for several years now.

The second flaw that I can see contributing to the lack of standardization in web accessibility, does simply not know how to sell the idea. Imagine you work for a web design shop, and you want to pitch allocating some extra budget for ensuring that the product is compliant with web accessibility standards. How would you sell that to a client? I can predict that 9 times out of 10, the client will say: “but our target audience isn’t blind/hard of hearing/elderly/(insert your own excuse).” People generally just aren’t educated enough about the need for accessibility to argue the point. This is where the WAI comes in. An accredited town crier who has presence in the developer’s community as source for professional education is exactly what we accessibility needs in order become a standard.

Further Reading