Web Accessibility

Edited version of a Metafilter comment posted on 17 January 2002.

How many web designers have met someone with a visual impairment? Watching a blind person using Jaws is a whole different deal to having some sort of theoretical understanding that there are these things called "accessibility" issues. I've been lucky enough to spend a morning with a blind colleague to watch how he uses the web, and it showed me that I (like most of the received wisdom) didn't know the half of it.

For example, how many of us use title tags to drop extra information or commentary into a link? Now, how many are aware that when Jaws encounters a link with a title tag, it reads out the title content instead of the link content, often making the sentence meaningless in the process?

How many of us have actually experienced the daily frustration of encountering frames-based sites in Jaws? To all practical intents and purposes, navigating such sites is impossible, and so blind web-users find themselves locked out of a medium that offers them enormous possibilities: the ability to read material that would be inaccessible to them in print form, and the freedom to shop from home, to name two.

I saw sites that looked like they were doing the right thing, offering text versions, that failed in practice because the code was laid out in such a way that the link to the text version didn't get read out first, and so got lost in a jumble of nav-bar titles being read aloud.

I'm not saying it's easy to address all these issues when you have no hands-on experience of them, which is hard to get. But surely, the official site for the biggest global sporting event should be expected to out-perform your average run-of-the-mill site when it comes to this.

And even if a site is just about "selling something", it seems mad to exclude a chunk of the potential market before they can even get to the virtual checkout.



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