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Web Site Accessibility

“Ensuring that a Web site is accessible to people with physical disabilities is a longtime concern for Web designers and programmers. The rise of more-complex Web pages, a proliferation of Web browsers, and the federal government’s Section 508 accessibility guidelines make designing and testing Web sites for maximum accessibility a great deal of work.”

Lisa Schmeiser stated so in her August 2003 MacWorld review of Lift, the Nielsen Norman Group’s solution to implementing Section 508 accessibility in web sites built in Dreamweaver. “Their guidelines form the basis of the tests you can use to determine whether your Web site is accessible.”

usable.net also offers a “free accessibility test.” Playing devil’s advocate, I ran Speak Up through the test. Check out the results.

That’s not all.

According to John Roberts, project manager for a digital Braille reader in development at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “A computer display doesn’t have to be something you look at - it can be tactile.” The September 2000 issue of Wired described the NIST solution as the connection of an “electromechanical device that works with Braille-translation software to convert computer files into palpable text formed by movable pins.”

I’m no programmer, but even to me these advances seem awesome! It takes more time and money, but doesn’t everyone deserve to have a similar if not the same experience on the Internet? How accessible is your web site to people with physical disabilities? As a designer or programmer, do you plan for accessibility? Ever have a project where accessibility was required?

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jul.08.2003 BY Kiran Max Weber
joy olivia’s comment is:

I cannot say that I've ever had to create a page that was usable by anyone visting it using adaptive technologies. For my "clients" time is money and often time isn't budgeted for that kind of extensive tweaking and testing -- even though complete accessibility is usually something they would /like/ to have for their sites. I do my best to try to do the little things (like adding alt tags) when coding. But admittedly I am not as diligent as I would like to be. Thanks for sharing the link, Kiran.

On Jul.08.2003 at 01:23 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Playing devil's advocate, I ran Speak Up through the test. Check out the results.

Ok, let's stop taking shots at Speak Up shall we? : )

Programming a web site is hard enough with all the frickin' different browsers and platforms — and all the lazy people — to also worry about this disability stuff. I rarely worry about it. Maybe I should? Nah.

Even Hillman Curtis admitted he chose a design element over a disability issue. In his design for Fox Searchlight he came up with some cool colored dots that all had some contextual meaning but color-blind people can't see them. Yet they are still there.

If I had a Quality Assurance team like the one we had at marchFIRST, then I would probably make a bigger effort to meet them needs. In the meantime I shall design with green backgrounds and red type.

On Jul.08.2003 at 01:41 PM
Rick G’s comment is:

That's interesting. I've always known I should be cognizant of what the "differently-abled" need for accessibility, but I have never done anything about it.

One part of me suspects that we're going to see more requirements for accessibility, up to and including legislation. I mean, if we're the "architects of the information age" (gag), don't we face the same issues as traditional architects and builders faced with passage of the ADA?

On the other hand, I'm seeing more and more sites with Flash-only content... even places that you would think might know better. Flash MX supposedly offers tools for accessible content creation, but come on, if you don't even offer HTML as an option what chance that you would consider the blind?

Something to keep an eye on, for sure.


On Jul.08.2003 at 01:42 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I thought there were federal ADA codes for certain types of government web work.

In the state of Washington, there are ADA review protocols for certain kinds of design work, especially for transit. Now I don't know how strictly it's enforced or complied with, but I know it exists.

I once (10 yrs ago) heard Diane Pilgrim (then director of the Cooper-Hewitt, NYC) speak on the issue of universal design, including the disabled. Diane is wheelchair-bound herself, but the museum auditorium the event was held in did not have easy disability access. So to start the show, she had two guys awkwardly carry her down to the stage. It was a very sobering, dramatic way to start. I remember that one of the case studies in her lecture was OXO kitchen tools. Although OXO was originally designed for arthritic and handicapped users, its design was so effective that it became popular universally.

Are there comparable examples of online use?

On Jul.08.2003 at 02:07 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

The OXO comment is a perfect example of how making your product more accesible improves the experience for everyone...not just those with disabilities. Accessibility online isn't just about letting blind people access your site. It's about making your site more accessible, and, therefore typically more usable for everyone.

Accessibility isn't a chore...it's just something that has to be added to the priority list.

Unfortunately, for some visual designers, they need to give a bit. Web development is very much about compromises. Those that tend to shy away from that are the very ones that just say 'screw it...we're building the site in flash and I'm maximizing the browser in a pop-up window, dammit!' ;o)

Remember, most web sites are about the content. It's the content that's primary...the visual look in a particular web browser, secondary.

As a government employee, I now need to be much more aware of accessibility issues as we go forward with our site redesign, so I'm learning a bit. It's not overly complicated. There's a bunch of gotchas, of course, but that's true of any web development project. ;o)

One thing that shocked me is the sorry state that many screen readers are in. They all have the war-games era sound voice synthesizer. In 20 years we haven't been able to improve voice feedback interfaces? Ugh.

On Jul.08.2003 at 02:20 PM
Brent’s comment is:

Amazon didn't fare too well either.

This site's results aren't that big of a deal considering it's audience. I'd think the bigger the audience the more accessible the site? Maybe not...

On Jul.08.2003 at 02:31 PM
herman’s comment is:

Armin, "if hillman curtis jumped off a cliff"...

you know how it ends.

judge for yourself what you should do and consider others in your design applications. when we visit sites and don't find that magic button that takes us exactly where we want, we bitch. the disabled have a right to bitch and we should have the sense to listen.

darrel is right:

>The OXO comment is a perfect example of how making your product more accesible improves the experience for EVERYONE...not just those with disabilities.

On Jul.08.2003 at 03:06 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Armin, "if hillman curtis jumped off a cliff"...

you know how it ends.

Dude, c'mon, you have to give me more credit than that. I was merely illustrating... I forgot what I was trying to illustrate. That story came to mind because I thought it was funny that one of the leaders in usability would opt for the less usable option. Not so much as a "If he does it, why can't I?" type of thing.

On Jul.08.2003 at 03:20 PM
Dave’s comment is:

What would be the oxo of the internet? Any good examples?

Here is the report on nist.gov site I was half expecting perfection.

On Jul.08.2003 at 03:52 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

What would be the oxo of the internet? Any good examples?

Well, it's a small example, but when Armin updated this site, he replaced the javascript-only links to comments with more friendly href links using javascript only on the onClick event.

Technically, by default, that still creates a pop-up window--which isn't the best for accessibility--but it certainly is now more accessible for anyone not using javascript while surfing.

In turn, it made the site much more usable for those that prefer to control their own windows regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

On Jul.08.2003 at 04:06 PM
Max’s comment is:

> What would be the oxo of the internet? Any good examples?

I love 37 Signals for usable design that is also easy on the eyes. They have several sites that examine good and bad usability on the internet (Design Not Found) and how they would improve certain aspects of sites for usability (The 37 Better Project).

On Jul.08.2003 at 04:32 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Not for nothing, but the National Federation of the Blind has 198 significant issues. I'm not sure what's to be learned from this, but there you have it.

OXO of the Web: Google. To think we used to wait for Yahoo to load all that crap. 37Signals is great too--very interesting that they post fees right on the site.

On Jul.08.2003 at 04:47 PM
Kim’s comment is:

In my full time job I do sites for government (eg women.gov.au which means I have to care about accessibility. In Australia now ALL government and business websites are supposed to pass w3c accessibility standards to a least A level to even be legal. (Not that most businesses are doing it yet but after the Sydney Olympics site got sued they are at least not doing things quite so horribly.)

Making an accessible site is mainly about conforming to html/xhtml standards so that everyone can access the information. That actually makes it faster and cheaper to build a site, and it certainly makes it easier to maintain. You only have to do ONE version of the html and ONE version of the CSS. NO more stressing over browser incompatibility and wrestling with stupid NS4. It also means that people using handhelds have a better chance of accessing your site, not just disabled people.

On Jul.08.2003 at 06:56 PM
Elmer Fudd’s comment is:

OXO of the Web: Google.

Dey have not fowgotten anybowdy. Dey even wemembewed me.

On Jul.09.2003 at 09:51 AM
griff’s comment is:

Dang, you wait to break out a digital (or non-print) discussion while I am on vacation!

Hey, wait if I am on vacation why am I wasting time on the internet?

gotta go!..

On Jul.09.2003 at 11:40 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

You mean you don't plan your vacations based on local wireless access? I couldn't imagine a vacation without my laptop. Sure, the wife and kids are nice to have along as well, but I can't forget the laptop. ;o)

On Jul.09.2003 at 11:51 AM
luumpo’s comment is:

Armin and others seemed to be expressing a belief that designing for the majority of users is the best thing to do.

Often, when I read philosophy, people will discuss, say, human nature, and often will leave out the deviants when trying to determine what exactly human nature is. For example, they will say that human beings are by nature unselfish people, and say that people like serial killers and the mentally handicapped are an exception to this rule and they really don't need to be dealt with to construct a proper theory.

I think, with speak up, that you don't have to worry about this sort of thing. I might be wrong, but I don't think that many designers are color-blind or other-blind. That would be... interesting to say the least. And, hopefully, only designers would be reading this site.

I can see if you are designing a site that you know will be accessed by people with handicaps, but, really, does a blind person really need to visit kraft.com? I don't, and I can see.

It might be irresponsible of me, but I imagine that you don't need to make your site accessible by the fringe unless you know the fringe is going to be reading your site.

On Jul.10.2003 at 04:19 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

but I don't think that many designers are color-blind

I've known quite a few color-blind designers. Though I agree that you probably won't find too many truly blind graphic designers...but that's not to say they maybe wouldn't want to read content here, and, as such, why not let them?

I can see if you are designing a site that you know will be accessed by people with handicaps

Again, making a site more accessible typically makes it more accessible for all...not just those with specific handicaps. It's simply good design to take accessibility issues into consideration when developing your solution.

but, really, does a blind person really need to visit kraft.com? I don't, and I can see.

What? A blind person maybe wouldn't want some recipes? Perhaps some investor information? Maybe to file a complaint?

It might be irresponsible of me, but I imagine that you don't need to make your site accessible by the fringe unless you know the fringe is going to be reading your site.

Again, accessibility isn't about only accomodating the 'fringe'. And, btw, I think the 'fringe' you speak of may be a lot larger than you think. For instance, there's well over a million blind people in this country (the US). I imagine Kraft wouldn't mind accomodating an extra million potential consumers.

On Jul.11.2003 at 09:53 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Oh...speaking of blind designers...the last class on accessibility I took was taught by a blind person who designed and built all of his own powerpoint presentations and web sites himself. So, they *are* out there. ;o)

On Jul.11.2003 at 09:55 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

And speaking of disabilities, the ADA just released a paper on the ADA and what it means to the web:


On Jul.11.2003 at 10:46 AM
Sarah B.’s comment is:

Just wanted to note a good source for 508 and usability, webaim.org, has recently updated the GUI of the site, and it looks a lot better.

There are some GREAT articles, reference and resources on there, and the forum can be extremely helpful for the more technical issues - and beginner's stuff too.

On Dec.31.2003 at 12:52 PM