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Website Accessibility As A Duty

For the first time in the history of humanity we have the ability to create things that are accessible to almost anyone, almost anywhere, almost instantly and it is our responsibility to do so.

graphics showing up in a google images search for the term accessibility

A couple months ago I was at a meetup for Columbus Web Analytics Wednesday and I explained to some colleagues that I was working on a Website Accessibility Checker application.

This was shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear an appeal from Domino’s Pizza arguing that the American’s with Disabilities Act’s provisions shouldn’t apply to their website.

As the debate continued, I realized that my feelings on the matter were strong but simple.

If I was blind, I would hope that people who could create content that was accessible to me, would do so.

The difficulties of being blind

When was reading the Gil v Winn Dixie case, I realized even more than I had before, how difficult it is to be blind.

excerpt from gil v winn dixie describing using an inaccessible website

Humans primary sense is sight so without that you can’t read a book, read a normal menu, you can’t tell who or what is in your proximity…heck, you can’t even shop for groceries on your own.

Yet digital media has to conveyed as binary data and that binary data can be translated on-the-fly into other languages, it can be adjusted for color, contrast, size and other display features.

The flexibility of digital media is what makes it accessible to anyone, anywhere at any time, almost instantly.

We have a duty to our fellow humans to do everything we can to accommodate as many users as possible. With the aging population in many developed countries, more and more users need to be able to adapt your website to their needs…aside from being good for the bottom line, why wouldn’t you want to?

Because it takes a little more effort and a little more work? Maybe costs a little more money?

So do handicapped parking spaces and toilets wide enough for wheelchairs but every public place has those features and people aren’t complaining about it.

George H. W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act
P14777-18 President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act on the South Lawn of the White House. Sharing the dais with the President and he signs the Act are (standing left to right): Rev. Harold Wilkie of Clairmont, California; Sandra Parrino, National Council on Disability; (seated left to right): Evan Kemp, Chairman, Equal Opportunity Commission; and Justin Dart, Presidential Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities. Mrs. Bush and Vice President Quayle participate in the Ceremony. 26 July 1990 Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in place since 1991. It is now almost 3 decades later and people act dumbfounded when it is applied to their website.

If a blind person walked into a store and was turned away would you think it was wrong? Well then why should websites, which are becoming a more and more significant part of day-to-day life, be able to turn away blind people?

I’m not blind but I do have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), yet because I’m intelligent and figured out ways to compensate, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30 and went through great hardships in life before that.

I can often tell people want to scoff when I say I’m disabled, because I don’t have a physical handicap and I’m smarter than the average bear but I was talking to a friend about it the other day and for the first time I realized how much effort it takes for me to make websites usable.

I have ad blockers but auto-play videos with sound often get past those so then I mute them, open developer tools and take what ever actions is needed to stop the motion and noise. Often times, disabling Javascript or adjusting the CSS rules of objects such as setting them to display:none.

And I’d say ADHD is a minor impairment compared to blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc.

Heck, by the age of 50 most people have need glasses for reading (visual impairment).

So, given that most of us will at some point have some level of disability, shouldn’t we accept our duty to our fellow man to make everything that we can accessible so it works for as many people as it can?

I think so, and so does federal law under the ADA, the Fair Housing Act, the Affordable Care Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

2 thoughts on “Website Accessibility As A Duty

  • Well put–something I never thought of. Do you suppose that braille indicator controls could be added to the frames of devices such as the ipads and like tools to indicates where on the touch screen you can find certain functionality? Think of the symbols you see on elevator controls.

    • Apple is actually regarded as one of the more accessible makers of consumer electronics because accessibility tools are built-in to the operating system (typically under System Preferences > Accessibility) rather than being an add-on application.

      That said, as much as I have always intended to spend a day (or even an hour) blindfolded and attempting to use applications and websites as a blind person would, I haven’t ever tried it and my gut feeling is that touch screens, much like regular screens probably aren’t ideal for blind people, instead they rely on keyboard based navigation and audio feedback.

      I think there are braille devices that will read text on a screen and translate it on-the-fly to an interface that can be “read” via the fingertips but given the difficulties with computer vision (how would the iPad know where they were supposed to touch so it could indicate it to them?) I doubt something on the frame or screen would be currently viable.

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