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Accessibility’s Growing Importance March 27, 2006 – 4:43 p.m. – Permalink

Research published by the Disability Rights Commission in 2004 showed that testing with disabled users may uncover 45% more accessibility problems than testing with software alone.

JULIE HOWELL,
ROYAL NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND

As many other Web designers will agree, it’s getting very difficult convincing others that accessibility is important. When I say to someone, “It’s so people who have little or no vision can surf the Web,” they usually reply back, “I wasn’t even aware blind people surfed the Web.”

Well, that is changing significantly; disabled users are being asked by organizations such as the Usability Exchange to determine whether sites are accessible or not. Via the Usability Exchange, Web designers will be able to send their websites in for testing by a variety of disabled people.

The Usability Exchange was an idea by Stefan Haselwimmer in 2004 after asking local authorities about the accessibilities of their respective websites. “We were surprised by how few had tested their websites with disabled users,” says he.

What happens is that the Usability Exchange sends submitted sites to many different disabled people with a variety of disabilities, including low vision, blindness, and paralysis. As expected, most authorities of accessibility on the Web encourage all designers to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the W3C. Today, few designers use the WCAG, even though it has existed since May of 1999, quite unsurprising, as CSS’s growth has experienced the same rocky road.

Below is a condensed list of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0:

  1. Content must be conceivable.
    1. Provide text alternatives for all non–text content.
    2. Provide synchronized alternatives for multimedia.
    3. Ensure that information, functionality, and structure can be separated from presentation.
    4. Make it easy to distinguish foreground information from background images or sounds.
  2. Interface elements in the content must be operable.
    1. Make all functionality operable via a keyboard interface.
    2. Allow users to control time limits on their reading or interaction.
    3. Allow users to avoid content that could cause seizures due to photosensitivity.
    4. Provide mechanisms to help users find content, orient themselves within it, and navigate through it.
    5. Help users avoid mistakes and make it easy to correct them.
  3. Content and controls must be understandable.
    1. Make text content readable and understandable.
    2. Make the placement and functionality of content predictable.
  4. Content must be robust enough to work with current and future technologies.
    1. Use technologies according to specification.
    2. Ensure that user interfaces are accessible or provide an accessible alternative(s).

So accessibility is all fine and dandy, right? Well, there are criticisms that are worth mentioning. Many people have supported the Usability Exchange on the condition that they focus on quality of their responses to queries. Instead of denying the existence of accessibility within a site at all, critics say the Usability Exchange should describe steps to make one’s site accessible.

But it’s not only important that accessibility is used on every page; disabled users favor accessible sites. One hundred people with disabilities were polled by AbilityNet as to whether they browsed accessible sites more often than those that are not. Disabled users spend their time surfing the Internet for information, banking, shopping, and leisure, but they use sites that are more accessible than their competitors.

The author of the study, Robert Christopherson, says: “In the UK there are around 1.6 million registered blind people, 1.5 million with cognitive difficulties, six million with dyslexia and a further 3.4 million who have some problem making use of a standard computer difficult or impossible. In addition there is an increasing number of elderly ‘silver surfers’ with failing eyesight or arthritis. These potential Internet users represent a spending power in excess of 120 billion. The arguments are compelling, whether from a moral, legislative or commercial perspective, suppliers of goods, services and information on the Internet are ignoring a highly significant market sector at their peril.”

As more disabled users are able to access the Web, it is important to realize the essential existence of accessibility and its benefits.

The SZ logo contest is underway. Rules? Well, your logo design must:
  1. have a transparent background and should preferably be saved in a PNG format.
  2. have relatively the same dimensions as the existing logo.
  3. be provided with another design (i.e. another image); one is for the hover state (e.g. onmouseover) and one is not for the hover state (e.g. onmouseout).

If you would like to participate, entries are due by April 30, 2006. Procedures for submission:

  1. Send a link to the online and uploaded image file to [email protected].
  2. Send the image as an attachment to [email protected].

In other news I read two perspectives on Sony by Brian and Patrick, both very intuitive writers with a knack for humorous entries.