Kill Accessibility


Stairways to nowhere

Let’s get some reality on the web accessibility debate.

We all know about WCAG 1, we have all at least had a look at the associated checklists.  If you are lucky you may have glanced at WCAG 2.

We all have been developing and designing our sites with semantic content, in compliance with W3C guidelines, using progressive enhancement for the interactive components, unobtrusive Javascript, and graceful degradation of the pages for legacy browsers.   Maybe used some of the attributes of ARIA. Sure that’s a no brainer.

We know that doing this will solve most of the accessibility issues.

So much so that one would think that the cause for accessibility and universal design was over.  Right?

No – wrong.

We are not Assistive Technology users

If we set aside the fact that we still have people in Australia building non standards based sites with tables for layout and inline javascript.

We as a community (edit – able bodied) in general are just paying lip service to accessibility.  We have become complacent. We are engaging in a mindless tokenistic effort with accessibility.  Do we really care…

Often the real answer is No.  At least now we are being honest.

Think about it when was the last time you included a round of accessibility testing in a quote.   Or for that matter when was the last time you even considered it, or even raised the topic.

To often if the client does bring up accessibility in early discussions, we will just ignore it.  Pretend it isn’t an issue.

Even government agencies, local, state and federally, have been dodging accessibility issues.  I have seen it personally, straight faced lies, or statements of avoidance veiled in bureaucratic misunderstanding.   The mindless ticking off on the WCAG 1 checklist, just to get the KPI achieved, too often by a junior staff member who doesn’t really have any interest in accessibility or the like anyway.

This has to stop.

Yes some of us are doing something, but in reality is it enough.

Are we calling our fellow peers to task when the accessibility on their web site is just not up to scratch?  We used to do this with  web standards.  Why not accessibility?

Maybe we need to remind people that ensuring a web site is accessible in Australia is a legal requirement.

Losing our way.

Still with accessibility we have gone very quiet.  Even silent.  Why?

Simple we have become our clients, we are now just playing the same lip service, tokenism game that our clients are often playing.   Yes in public we (they) will state that we care about accessibility.   But in reality we (edit – as able bodied designers and developers) don’t have to use assistive technology (AT), we don’t have a disability, in general we can see and use the web as it was intended.  We are a million miles from the practical world of using AT.

The old UX catch call is never truer here – we are not the users.   The disparity between us and the people we are really working for, with accessibility, is sometimes just too great for us to even get a idea of what it is like, no matter how many videos of people using assitive technology we see.

Why we are doing nothing.

In a lot of cases we have the tools with the standard issue Web Technology to make the entire web accessible. We have had them for over 4 years now.  Still a lot of sites fail all but a basic Jaws reading test.  Why?

We know why, we just don’t talk about it, it’s the elephant in the room:

  • Money

    Money is the primary issue.  It’s always  comes down to money, it costs for testing, it costs for recruiting, it costs to find the best solution.

  • No ROI

    From the clients view there is a perception that there is no return on investment.  The AT audience is just too small and they are seen as being just on welfare and not having any disposable income at all.

  • Lack of Skills

    There is a lack of skills or documented solutions for all but the common accessibility issues.  Yes lots of people around the world have found solutions to most of the problems.   However if you want to solve it locally you have to reinvent the solution again or call in an overseas or interstate high paid consultant.

  • Social Value

    In reality there is no socially inspired public relations value in accessibility.  A business can be seen to get more value out of sponsoring a guide dog than making their web site accessible.

  • Why Bother

    Although the Australia Human Rights Commission hasn’t been sitting on it’s hands on these issues. There is a general public and web industry perception that they have. So if the legislator isn’t bothered with enforcing compliance why should anyone else care.

  • Lack of Tools

    There is no sure-fire tool that we can automatically measure accessibility of a site.  It takes real testing and a compliance checklist to ensure a site is accessibility to a wide spectrum of the community.   It’s much easier to just lie on the checklist, after all who is going to check.  Yes I have seen this being done time after time.

What can we do.

It’s a sad really.  In a way we shouldn’t have even got to this state.

It’s as if the hard battle for accessibility has only been won on the popularist visually impaired front.  Leaving the cognitive, motor control, hearing and the like issues out in the cold.

Now I don’t have a solution, however this is something I have been thinking about a great deal.

I’m certain what every we have to do, isn’t going to be one simple solution.  On a side note: don’t look to HMTL5, that’s not going to be the magical panacea.  I except  the answer will be in a multiple pronged approach:

  • Kill off Accessibility

    In some ways even considering accessibility as a separate item is the wrong approach. We really need to be considering the ideals of universal design, in which everything is designed for everyone.   Let’s just for a minute forget about accessibility as a separate issue. We need to design and develop for people using AT just like we do for any other usability issue.  This is where  Inclusive Design comes in.

  • No more checklists

    Lets be honest the WCAG checklists  don’t work. We don’t have HTML or CSS checklists.   Why should we have accessibility ones.   Checklists are just too open to management and insecure web team members abusing them and warping the real results.  After all who is going to challenge or randomly audit them – senior management, I don’t think so.

  • Merge the Guidelines

    Over time it would be idea to merge WCAG in the core of HTML and CSS guidelines such that it is just second nature to the recommended implementation examples with HTML or CSS.   Okay this is a really long term solution considering we are just getting into HTML5.

  • Ninja Accessibility

    Being realistic we aren’t going to get all those ideas of the ground tomorrow.  However we can take advantage of the aging baby boomer population in the west.  This generation of older adults, will start to have a lot of leverage and will also start to encounter  a number of minor web accessibility issues.  Via overcoming these issues by stealth, ninja like, one is able to introduce an inclusive design mind set to the client, via an area they can relate to.

  • Accessibility Patterns

    This is one that I touched on above.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a centralised library of accessibility solutions, a bit like a UI pattern library like Yahoo User Interface Library or  the Yahoo Design Pattern Library.  That way designers and developers could just look for a solution to a problem or just consider the overall UI recommended in terms of an inclusive design.    Either way it would be a win, win situation.

    Now there are lots of very smart accessibility design practitioners across the world.  I know a good number of them have encountered most of the common issues and then some more.  Some have published these issues and the work arounds as they discover them.  Some have just listed the issue and test results, leaving the solution as a guarded revenue stream.  And others are just too busy to really contribute.

    We need to harness this information and store it somewhere centrally.   As a community resource.   Think about it, think about the differences that developmental patterns and UI design patterns have made to the developmental process. No more reinventing the wheel (or widget) .  They have allowed the adoption of a landscape where good practices are now the norm.

    What we need to do is foster the accessibility community to build accessibility patterns as solutions to common problems.   Such that any designer or developer can drop the solution in place and be confident of the out come.   Yes this does need some altruistic contributions back to the community by accessibility solution specialists.  However just consider the overall result in the longer term.

In a way I have dream that in the next five years we can turn this around and have  accessibility issues approached in the same way we now do for web standards.

However in order to do this we need to start today, and make real changes in what we do.

Are you with me!

This article is based around the talk Kill Accessibility presented at Perth BarCamp4, April 2010. The slidedeck is available on Slideshare or below:

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  1. Nice post! Thought provoking.

    I happen to have a disability, albeit mobility related, and it doesn’t limit my web access much. I also am hard of hearing, and that does impact my ability to view videos that aren’t captionned.

    And I don’t advocate for web accessibility anywhere near as much as I used to. In the “olden days”, I was very vocal on the Mambo and Joomla! forum to ensure that the CMS would be accessible, both front-end and back-end. I was even invited on the core team of Joomla! to make it accessible. But there’s only so much hitting your head against a brick wall one can take. I saw from the inside that it was indeed only lip service.

    I’m just tired. Very tired.

  2. Sue more non compliant websites!!

    As I’ve been saying for the past decade, having an accessible site is actually a legal requirement of all businesses in Australia and most of the western world. (As you already point out.)

    Or to put it more correctly, it’s illegal to discriminate against people. (On age, disability, sex, race etc.)

    Ergo, an accessibility compliant website is a legal requirement.

    Plenty of big companies have been successfully sued for non compliance. (IBM, Target, the Olympic Committee.)

    You would have thought people would have learned by now, but alas not.

    Definitely a case for affirmative action.

    Just a couple of other points.

    1: No ROI: Absolutely there’s great ROI to be gained form accessibility compliance, but don’t get me started. That’s a whole ‘nother post.

    2: Lack of Tools: My old version of Dreamweaver has various inbuilt checkers to make sure it spits out compliant code. So do the various CMS systems I’ve been using lately.

    3: Lack of Skills: It’s not that hard. See point 2 above. I think many people are just too damn lazy and slack to run the validators at their fingertips.

    See you got me started.

  3. @nic – I feel the pain, I feel that it’s only because of the adoption of web standards and the compliance of completing various attributes in the markup of sites that we have got anywhere.

    @mark – good points, I would love the hear a realistic ROI augment from a clients view.

    On the tools and skills, I’m looking beyond “alt” attributes and correct table markup, beyond the screen reader compliant pages. I want the web accessible by everyone… Yes I want it all!

  4. There’s a lot of disposable income and ROI in the community. See Legal & General, Southwest Airlines, Procter & Gamble and many more for business case statements (typing on my phone not having the URLs with me), and the disposable income in the USA is about 200 billion.

    Still I agree. Accessibility in Sweden is so successful that it has been dropped as a separate issue – it’s been incorporated in all governmental guidelines, so there’s no need to have a separate guideline. See Peter Krantz on Vimeo from our EAFRA conference last year.

    Tackling the issue from a standards perspective won’t help I’m afraid. We need to show the business case for web agencies and their clients, otherwise you get some guerilla accessibility here and there, but no long term effect. Spreading knowledge at the base is one thing, but the issue needs to be addressed at board level to be sucessful.

  5. @Martin, ironically, Vimeo doesn’t allow captioning of their videos. Hence I can’t access the content of videos loaded up on Vimeo (unless that’s changed in the last 2 months)…

  6. Nice post Gary.

    I totally agree about inclusive design (I’m a huge fan). I find that taking using inclusive design principles helps to get the message across, in many cases, to people who don’t have a core focus on accessibility. It’s about the ROI and value add that they get, especially when it can somehow be related back to “me”. I love using mobile devices as a great example of how inclusive design can benefit or hinder many people.

    I also know people who are doing some great work on accessibility within government, working within very challenging environments. People don’t get to hear about the stuff that they’re doing due to confidentiality agreements/employee agreements and that sort of thing.

    But if we can take a multi-prong approach, where accessibility and inclusive design is understood at all levels of an organisation, that would be fantastic. I do like your suggestion of an accessibility pattern library!

  7. @mark: There’s a darn site more to accessibility than just using a few validators and ensuring compliant code. automated testing only gets you so far…

    I accept that the default state of accessibility on the web isn’t as good as it could be, but I think we’ll get there one day – at least we’re talking about it. Something which doesn’t seem to happen in other industries – e.g. print magazines putting text over photographic images making it hard to read, and my personal peeve radio stations that play constant background jingle / noise behind speech. Even sometimes behind fairly substantial content like news headlines, which makes it hard to hear the foreground (esp. if a correspondent is on the phone).

    p.s. The irony of the non compliant colour combinations used in this article has not been lost on me – odd decision considering the subject matter.

  8. Unfortunately–and this is very important to the article and the community in general–not all web professionals are “developing and designing our sites with semantic content, in compliance with W3C guidelines, using progressive enhancement for the interactive components, unobtrusive Javascript, and graceful degradation”. Also, I like the idea of pushing Accessibility Patterns.

  9. You make some good points, and yet they are lost in your initial assumptions. “We are not assistive technology users”? There’s your first problem — what part of the accessibility community are you in that you don’t see how many people working in it are assistive technology users. Many of us Web professionals working in accessibility are users of adaptive tech, and we are constantly yelling and waving our hands, trying to get the attention of the accessibility professionals who are able-bodied who think that the accessibility movement is all about helping those disabled people over there.

    Making ableist assumptions like that floods out the value of many of the more important things that you said, like about how universal design should be centralized, about how “accessibility” has come to mean “accessibility for the visually impaired”, about the weak social value.

    Why don’t you start by reaching out to the accessibility professionals you say don’t exist?

  10. I think we need to make it easier to do the right thing. Accessibility patterns sounds like a good idea but if we’re talking universal design it might be better to help out the existing UI libraries incorporate accessibility technologies like ARIA. The YUI library and jQuery UI have already started doing this.


  11. @Gary,

    I agree on most elements brought up as well, though I am much more optimistic than you seem to be about our chances to get anywhere positive with the way things are being done today.

    There was a blog entry that got many people thinking a few weeks ago, written by Vlad Alexander titled: “Do we need a new game plan to make the Web accessible?” ( where I exposed my views on the topic, so I won’t post them here again but link to them instead:

    I’m hoping they may add to your discussions in some way. If not, well, sorry for spamming. ;p

    However, I do agree with you on the fact that maybe we need to change the way we present things. As time goes by, I am becoming a fan of universal design more and more (thanks in part to Wendy Chisholm who has a way to literaly “touch my soul” when she speaks on the topic) and I think it might be an interesting way to broaden our approach with accessibility and embrace a larger picture. We can also see accessibility as part of a bigger pursuit of quality.

    By integrating it in a larger picture, it might help get the message across to people who don’t “get it” at the moment. But whatever we do, I feel it’s important never to forget that first and foremost, we are doing this because we believe in inclusion and that the web is something everyone should be able to use, regardless of their limitations or disabilities. We do this for the people, not to save some organizations some money. Great if we do, but it’s not the point.

    I’d love to write something up on those barriers you mention, but until then, a little perspective from my part on them:

    * Money

    Everything has its price. Accessibility costs something. Any expertise brought in a project does. But in a world where companies get sued, it’s probably best to invest a little on accessibility than a lot on a law suit you are bound to lose. It will cost a whole lot more to correct and retrofit than it does to actually do it in the first place.

    No ROI

    False. There is ROI. We measure it all the time. It’s not necessarily accessibility-related, but it is definitely web standards-related. When “selling” it to people I work with or for that have a very money driven outlook on things, I voluntarily blur the lines a little, in order to make it look more appealing to them. I’m not lying about anything of course, but since accessibility pushes one towards best practices, I present it as a way to get into other practices or benefits that are adjacent to accessibility. A little blur can come in handy. In the end, the ROI I promise is there. is an interesting example of things that can come out of an accessibility approach. Other such sites are great examples also. And I’m not even considering the benefit of being viewed as a responsible and good corporate citizen. That counts for something too.

    * Lack of Skills

    You got that one right. There are way too few experts out there who really have a clue what they are talking about. This is a problem, but this is one we can act on. Training is key and it is up to us to teach other web professionals about accessibility. Just like we’ve taught them about web standards in the past. It is also up to us to share what we know, what we do and how we do it.

    * Social Value

    I disagree. Anyone who understands what accessibility is and how it can change lives sees and understands the social value behind the practice. A business will only be seen as more valuable if they invest in dogs if the public can’t understand why they’re investing in another field instead. Most people have never even considered that blind people can use the Web. Show them any video from a blind user navigating the web and watch their jaws drop. People CAN and DO get this when we take the time to explain it to them. Society appreciates businesses that care. And that has a very high value.

    * Why Bother

    True. In Quebec where I live (that’s a Canadian province, just in case), we do have a mandatory accessibility standard that’s coming along. Gov agencies will have to comply to it. But if there are no enforcements whatsoever, maybe some people will feel like it’s something that can be overlooked (we’ve seen that way too often already). Some people will see things the way you present it to them and do nothing. Others are mature enough to discipline themselves without any accessiiblity police breathing down their necks. Hopefully, those that don’t care and do nothing will also be the ones to get the blame when some community groups decide that actions need to be taken. It doesn’t have to be as pessimistic as you present it. Let’s have a little faith here, please.

    * Lack of Tools

    True again. We need better tools. But we also need people with knowledge. Why do people think that everything needs to be automated before we can do something about it? Sure, we may be lazy, but it’s a misleading impression. Accessibility presumes expertise, just like any other field or practice. Why should it be any different? Things will improve with time and tools will come out to do the stupid stuff like associating table cells with corresponding headers in complex data tables, associating labels and form fields or correcting PDF documents to make them accessible (Acrobat’s there but hey, it can still use improvement) but for other things, we need a human to look at it and apply knowledge. Why not ask for a Photoshop version that can produce awesome designs and corporate brands without having to “suffer” a designer while we’re at it? How about those programers? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just tell the computer to make our website like we envision it and not have to deal with those pesky coders? Why work with an expert when we can just push a few buttons instead? It can’t happen, it won’t happen. Yes for tools that improve our work, but let’s be realistic here. If you want results, you’ll just have to work for them.

    So yeah for opening up the windows and question the way we think and work.We still have a lot to learn. We’ve only been doing this for about 10 years or so. A lot of room for improvement, but all in all, I think we’re doing an awesome job and that we’re on the right track. After all, we’ve made governements adopt accessibility, we’ve made software producers integrate accessibility and we’ve raised quite a lot of awareness along the way.

    Instead of looking at what we have’nt been able to achieve yet, let’s turn around and take a look at all we’ve done. I, for one, am pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far.

    But it’s far from over. I will still be here in 10 years, advocating, I’m sure. Now, will YOU be with me? ;p

  12. Ok, look a few people got the wrong end of the stick when I mentioned various validators.

    Just to be clear, I agree that there is a lot more to accessibility than just using validators for compliant code etc.

    The point I was trying to make is that many web developers don’t even use these tools when they are at their fingertips.

    So if they’re not using the basics, how do we get them to consider more advanced accessibility issues?

    Gotta learn to walk before you can run. Or is that crawl before you can walk?

    Anyway, what a great discussion. Thanks for starting it Gary.

  13. @Denis,

    Yes, those barriers can be explained, and surmounted. But I think the bigger issue is not so much how we, in the accessibility community, view these barriers, but how people at large perceive the issues. And that’s the hard thing to undo.

    FWIW, in New Zealand government agencies *have* to make sure their sites are accessible. But… The reality of it is that very few sites meet compliance.

  14. @Martin – This issue with ROI and disposable income is the client seeing the benefit for them. Being sued in Australia is not a stimulator for the application of accessibility methods. Our local watch dog does not tend to sue medium sized organisations, only the larger businesses such of retailers, airlines, multinationals really get the big stick approach. Legal counsel for these agencies SME know this. They know they can bluff and say they are looking at it for next years budget and get away with it. In Australia the policy is mediate first.

    @Ruth – You are right leveraging the Mobile is a great way to Ninja Accessibility into an organisation.

    @Phil – Been meaning to tweak that. Thanks.

    @WebAxe – Yes you are right, I know that most of the web community is doing the right thing and following the excepted best practice. Especially Advert Agengies and Marketeers.

    However I’m writing for my audience. Which are mostly doing the right thing, or at least know they should be.

    One step at a time, problem with web standards is that the people we now need to reach are not listening and are not easily open to change.

    @Thomas – Totally with you on this one, I will add however some jQuery plugins can make matters worse in terms of accessibility as well. But still generally its a step in the right direction. Hence the idea of Accessibility Pattern Libraries.

    @Denis – Humm your reply is longer than my post(almost). Was totally unaware of Vlad Alexander post, but its good to see that we are coming at things from the same perspective.

    On Social Value, I see your point, but a lot of CEO’s I have spoken too know it’s an issue, yes they care. But the hard reality is the marketing and accounting divisions at the end of the day usually see no justification. Yes they are sympathetic after watching a video, however they are usually not too sympathetic with there cheque book.

    The use of community groups is something I have considered, but not touched on. Using lobby groups is a move that has to be done carefully with a planned approach.

    Yes we have achieved a great deal, still we have a long way to go as well. I’m just frustrated by the blind eye that people have been turning to accessibility of late.

    And yes, I’ll be with you, for the next 10-15 years at least.

  15. @Nic – as you know we have the same deal for the Australian state and federate government. Sadly the level of compliance at the state level (Western Australia) is lip service at best. One of the worst cases I encountered as an agency that refused to even consider WCAG 1 because they were not dealing with web pages, but a web application. In their mind this made them totally exempt.

    That said there are some leading lights in WA who have produced outstanding fully accessible web sites.

  16. @Gary, yes, a lot of lip service. Reminds me of an interaction I had dealing with the NZ Minister of Transport and how I was brushed off by him/his office.

    Brush Off From NZ Minister of Transport

  17. Great post Gary! I wish I had a dollar for the number of times a client has said “it’s accessible, our developer filled out this checklist”! In fact a lot of accessibility work came out of the Victorian Government moving from WCAG1 Level A to WCAG1 Level AA. All the departments were convinced they were Level A compliant and only found out they weren’t when they had their site tested for AA compliance!

    And by the way, I feel I’ve done my bit contributing to the accessibility community through the eGovernment Accessibility Toolkit.

  18. The biggest issue with web accessibility imo isn’t really web pages themselves. I’ve found that accessibility has such a hard time gaining traction with web developers only because screen readers in particular remains a black box. Jaws can do whatever it wants when rendering its virtual buffer. The experience of using such a mode basically is lost upon anyone sighted since that’s simply not how the primary interaction model works. How do you begin to validate the screen reader experience if validation tools don’t even approximate the user issuing screen reading commands? Jaws itself retrieves information not just from the browser DOM, but also from accessibility API’s; you have then the effect of many players who all may or may not expose different information.

    As long as AT venders remain stuck within a textual view of the web and a closed-off “virtual buffer”, universal design doesn’t really apply since that experience has little to do with the “sighted” experience. At the end of the day, the more AT’s can innovate and present a more “visual” experience, the more applicable universal design becomes. In other words, you can’t expect a specialized interface and not sacrifice compatibility with the mainstream.

  19. @david – good point, I can see where you are coming from. But the thing is the AT of a screen reader has nothing to do with the sighted experience, it is about the raw content of the page alone the semantic nature of content, the aria roles and the API, as you said. This is as it should be. We don’t want it to be a sighted like experience. As this experience is directed at an audience that is not looking for a sighted experience but one of information.

    Reality is that developers shouldn’t be even attempting to use Jaws and get even a glimmer of understanding of the experience a screen reader produces unless they are able to separate themselves from their existing sighted sensory input.

    Like I said we are not the users. In this case is it us that is hung up on the sighted experience.

    Also note that AT is not just about screen readers. Just as accessibility isn’t only about looking at the issues around the visually impaired.

  20. I don’t want to be belittle the cause, but trying to solve accessibility issues is a bit like a man asking a woman what she really wants. Simply put, there are differences between communication and expectation.

    I’ve read several books on accessibility, I am constantly studying different views, concepts, solutions on the web, and I try to make my web sites accessible — but in the end I fail to resolve all accessibility issues.

    It would be nice to have a central clearing house that would identify what the problems are and provide solutions. That way, those of us who actually care about such matters (there are some) can incorporate those solutions into our work product without making it a separate issue with additional cost to the client.

    I believe that accessibility should be our responsibility as developers and not that of our clients. Trying to explain accessibility to most clients (and some developers) is like trying to explain the concept of fire to a fish. They don’t get it, they never will get it, and as such the responsibility has to fall on those who do.

  21. @Deborah – sorry for the lateness of the reply, it wasn’t that I was ignoring you or that I didn’t want to comment, or that I was on my “high horse or some such”. You see your comment was deemed for some reason as spam. Sadly this does happen from time to time given the extremely high level of spam I get. I was only aware of your comment when I followed a trackback to your blog post on I tried to comment there but the commenting authorisation system is a little overly complex and extremely frustrating.

    Anyway sorry that this post made you angry ( gathering from your blog post).

    To be honest maybe I should have clarified which audience I was writing to. It’s not the accessibility community I talking too, it’s much larger than that. This post is not aimed at anyone specific group, and I’m sorry if you have taken it that way. It isn’t meant to be like that.

    I’m focusing on the web development and design community. Most of who are able bodied and who believe that they have the accessibility issues solved.

    The entire aim of this post is one of a wakeup call for the web community at large. To look at the issue from a different view point, to stop refresh the view point and re-examine the problem. Maybe coming up with new ideas new concepts.

    If it sparks debate and intelligent discussion. Then it has done it’s job and I’ll be happy.

    Aside from this post. Maybe there is a greater issue here.

    Maybe there is communications problem between able bodied “accessibility professionals” and AT using “accessibility professionals”.

    I know personally I’m in communication with my local AT community.

    However if you look at the community on a wider level if does appear to be very fragmented.

    Maybe this is a good time to rally the groups, to bring the communities together, to stop this lack of communication. Heal this fragmentation.

  22. As I’ve dealt mainly with the screen reader case and am most intimately familiar with its technical implementation, I focused on that in my initial comment.

    My main point is that there’s a fairly large gap between certain stake holders; most notably, this exists between AT developers and web developers. AT’s such as Jaws serve as the final filter before any content gets delivered to the user. As a result, the user in many cases is at the mercy of whatever specific AT’s they’re using. HTML for example has been delt with in such a radically different way than traditional desktop app’s. Without such an understanding, calls for universal design seem futile since realistically, all content need to go through some type of filter for it to be usable to users. Screen readers, for example, need to transform low-level data structures into some interactive, audio-centric, and keyboard-centric representations which conflicts with the visual and mouse-centric world we live in today. Any effort to introduce higher level symantics would be met with resistance as it also means incurring performance penalties as that work has to be done somewhere.

  23. I think the ROI issue is a big one – people don’t think it’s worth spending the money. They don’t fear being sued either as it rarely (in public at least) happens. Some companies are so big they think it’s cheaper to pay off complaints than invest in an accessible product in the first place.

    I often think it comes down to whether people have had any contact at all with someone with a disability. Until then it’s a theoretical idea rather than a human reality.

  24. […] week I came across an interesting article on accessibility by Gary Barber. In this article, Gary complains that behind a facade of interest […]

  25. No all governments have gone silent on accessibility. The gov of Canada just opened a collaborative space to the world to develop accessible solutions,
    Anyone can sign up, contribute, reuse, test, document, etc…
    Features jQuery progressive enhancement, WAI-ARIA, CSS3, HTML5, as well as XHTML, Drupal and WordPress variants.
    There is a lot more.
    With over 120 contributors within Gov’t, and the potential that the world-wide collaboration could bring, we might start to see something change.

  26. Gary– I sent your article to several of my Web developer peeps. What’s that assistive technology resting on your nose?

  27. @Ben – Correct the OMG moment that is the tipping point with most designers, devs and business owners is encountering in real life some one with a disability using the web. Up till then it’s just not real.

    @Steve – thanks for the link. It’s good to see some Governments taking the lead on these issues.

    @David – a lot of the issue is the difficultly that desktop devs have with the rollout of features for the their products. The entire desktop model moves a snails pace compared to the web. I find that we constantly need to be reminded of this.

    A new feature on the web takes days/weeks to implement. But on a desktop app that goes from months/years before it is delivered. And even then their is the uptake curve. This makes the entire process very slow… sadly.

  28. Interesting set of thoughts – and ones that echo with me personally. Ive posted my own response on my blog at for no other reason than its a rambling set of thoughts and suggests that the answer is out there -(c)x-files – but that the effort to address it may be too great in the immediate future.

  29. […] the top of the discussion charts and which has received much attention in recent blog posts from Gary Barber and Vlad […]

  30. […] Kill Accessibility | Man with no Blog – developers who don’t use assistive technnology themselves are only paying lip-service to accessibility, claims author Gary Barber. […]

  31. Very interesting post Gary. I have just finished a paper for the upcoming ICCHP entitled “Is the Accessibility Audit Dead?”, and in it I echo some of your sentiments. Rather synchronous!

  32. Just Another Designr

    “What’s the big deal, my mom’s friend’s brother’s neighbor’s son designed a website” – So maybe “No ROI”, “Lack of Tools”, “Lack of Knowledge”, etc., all play into the game of ignoring web accessibility. But the root of this evil lies within the human ego and innate ignorance where everybody thinks they are a web designer. Tools that allow just anybody to create a website have fostered a mindset that says web design is not a specialty. Kind of reminds me of realtors. Once you’ve experienced how f’d up a real estate sale can get when using a neophyte realtor you understand that maybe everybody can do it but everybody shouldn’t be! Same goes with website design – the knowledge, expertise and experienced needed is often vastly undervalued. Couple that with managers making ignorant, ego laden decisions, who ignore their website design experts (or don’t know enough to even hire an expert) the result is a site that is a usability / accessibility / coding nightmare that someday will, in some way, come back to bite them in the back-end. The expense of updating and maintaining a 20th century site, to accommodate 21st century technology, is often swept under the rug as a common and obligatory expense. The possibility of a lawsuit is often handled like the proverbial ostrich with his head in the sand. If I just pretend it’s not there . . .

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