Access for all

Last night I attended the local meet up group of Portland Web Designers. I went because I wanted to actually see a blind person use the web and the whole evening was all about accessibility. I admit to being slow to learn all the ins and outs of accessibility, I’ve read some about it, but recently with a new project I’ve been working on, I’ve become passionate about making sure it is accessible.

As I have started to wave the accessibility flag on this project I have gotten the usual push back from others. It is too hard, it’s too much work, it isn’t worth it. After last night I believe more than ever that it is worth it. Lorelle VanFossen spoke for the first half hour about what it means to be accessible and some of the reasons why you should do this. Here are just a few of the facts that hit me during her talk:

  • 18% (50 million) Americans are classified as disabled (this includes things such as using glasses to see).
  • That 18% represents $175 billion in discretionary spending, which is 2x as much as the teen market and 18x that of the “tween” market.
  • Beginning March 15, 2012 the ADA 2010 Accessible Design Standards will be required for a whole heck of a lot of sites, including restaurants, shopping sites, and basically anything serving the public. The fines for noncompliance can be quite large and more and more lawsuits are being filed by people demanding their right to access information.

After Lorrelle spoke, Winslow Parker took the stage and he went over some sites that members of the group had volunteered for critique, and he also showed examples of sites that work really well for him using JAWS and others that do not work at all. It was so fascinating to hear the screen reader and to have Winslow talk about what works well and doesn’t for him. The most helpful things for him when surfing the web are good labels, that make sense when read out to him, landmarks so he can easily move around the page, and headings in outline order so that he can easily understand what is most important on the page. He was so gracious and it was a treat to hear him speak.

I walked out of the meeting realizing that this is so very important and that so many opportunities are being missed for our industry to reach all users. Just as I have been passionate about mobile users getting all the content of a site in a way that is easy for them to consume and interact with, I am now equally passionate that all users should have the same access to the web when using assistive technology. It just makes sense, it’s the right thing to do, and I will be fighting for that in all my projects from the beginning.