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When it comes to Web Standards & Web Accessibility: is it better to push or to shove?

Monday, 30 October 2006 — by

Not that web accessibility is some kind of web tech’ debutante or anything, so why is it that when push comes to shove, bringing much-needed attention to web standards has to involve gettin’ all litigious? I ask this because over the course of this week, the signal-to-noise ratio on issues relating to web accessibility has gone up a little.

Most of the time, short thrift is given to web accessibility and web standards as a whole, and more often than not, the media merely pay simple lip service, furrow a brow and then move onto something else less boring.

However, when high-street names (albeit a high-street name from the USA) find themselves in court, the media can barely blink an eye for fear of missing something.

In this first installment, I’ll look at the polite and the not so polite ways in which the establishment attempt to motivate both myself and my peers to adopt web standards as well as big business. I’ll also discuss the many benefits of adopting web standards, too.

As a web designer & developer, I keep a keen eye on these issues because they’re very close to what it is that I do for a living, so web accessibility and web standards are serious issues for myself and my business.

On the 8th of March this year, the BSI (British Standards Institute) put in a helping hand towards the polite shove with the memorably entitled: “Guide for good practice in commissioning accessible websites.” In this document, they point out:

“The Family Resources Survey found that there are almost 10 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power in the region of 80 billion pounds per annum.”

That’s billion pounds, by the way, and not millions. So the carrot was money, and thus far the bait has been only mildly nibbled.

Let loose the legal Eagles, this is going to get messy!

Over here, we have the the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, while over in the USA, they have the section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which concerns itself more with the:

“accessibility requirements in federal procurement.”

And the Americans with Disabilities Act which has recently been given the chance to flex its muscles on Target, a major US DIY retail chain:

“The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a non-profit group based in Baltimore, and one of its members, Bruce ‘BJ’ Sexton, a student in California, are suing the retail giant. The action was filed on behalf of all blind people in California who are denied access to”

So this is the shove, and not a polite gesture to be seen anywhere, either:

“The complaint cites various problems with alt-text is missing from images, preventing screen readers from describing them to blind users; purchases cannot be completed without a mouse because keyboard controls do not work; image maps are inaccessible; and headings are missing that are needed to navigate. In short, the site is badly designed,…”

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Fate is not without a sense of irony. A major ‘Do it Yourself’ retail chain should allegedly hinder their customers from doing just that and in turn become a target for a flock of legal Eagles keen on setting a precedent.

I can’t help feeling that Target must feel hard done by. After all, it’s not like they’re on their own, here. If Target aren’t compliant, then they have company:

“Some of the most popular destinations on the Internet – MySpace, YouTube, and Yahoo – aren’t even close to compliance. And when it comes right down to it, why should they care? Web developers generally have to deviate from W3C compliance in order to compensate for rendering bugs, and the standards themselves are arguably too limited for many contemporary uses. If standards compliance guaranteed complete support and consistent rendering in all major browsers, web developers would have a reason to care.”

Web accessibility being crippled by non-compliance with the web standards

So web accessibility is intrinsically linked to the web standards. But right now, the standards are either being flouted or just ignored.

The BBC are hardly ever silent on such issues, and had something to say on web accessibility, too:

“In 2004, the UK’s Disability Rights Commission investigated 1,000 websites. It found that 800 of those sites failed to meet minimum accessibility standards set by the web’s regulatory body, the World Wide Web Consortium.”

Which is a point I’d highlighted previously in a company news article. But by far the most telling issue they unearthed was:

“It also discovered that if a site is accessible by a disabled user it is also a third quicker for an able-bodied person to complete tasks too.”

And that’s the thing, you see. As a web designer & developer, I too got stuck at the big locked door of web standards many years ago. I knocked a few times and no one replied, so I walked away. And I walked more than once.

Thing is, I didn’t find what I was looking for because I wasn’t knocking hard enough.

That is to say: if you just look at web standards as a whole, it’s colossal and it’s much, much too big to take on as a single entity.

But if you approach web standards from just the point of view of accessibility as a means of ‘best practice’, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

What the BBC article neglected to mention was that not only do able bodied folks benefit from better web design that adheres to the web standards, but the search engines will love you, too.

So the benefits are huge, and it’s a win-win-win situation. And all that is asked of the web designer is to use proper web standards-compliant code for their websites.

The line between the proper use of the web standardsas specified by the World Wide Web Consortium – and optimizing your websites and web applications for the search engines (otherwise known as SEO, which is an acronym of Search Engine Optimization) is so fine as to be nonexistent.

As a web developer, I treat them as part of the same goal, which is to make my websites visible and accessible to as many people and devices as possible.

Once you begin on the road to making standards-compliant and accessible websites, you’ll find it a rewarding experience, one of constant learning, but a worthwhile endeavor…

Part 1, 2

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Comment and be known

Carl Grint → Tuesday, 31 October 2006 @ 13:25 BDT

Nice article, some great points made concerning the state of the union for web accessibility.

Just came across an extension for Firefox which turns it into a speech browser (, very useful for testing your site to ensure people using Speech browsers can navigate through, without the high expense of an actual speech browser.

I am looking forward to your next instalment on web accessibility, keep up the good work.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 1 November 2006 @ 17:27 BDT

Ta very much!

Like the idea of the Firefox plug-in. I’ll have to give that a whizz.

Stuff like that isn’t just for the visually impaired, either.

Anyone can use something like that…

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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