Accessibility has NOT been taken too far

Jeff Croft is a leading designer in CSS and standards-based design. So, when he writes something questioning whether accessibility is over-emphasized, it draws a fair amount of attention. I’ve certainly taken notice.

Jeff raises some good points – ultimately, in the range of projects he works with, everything comes down to a business decision. Is the implementation of accessibility feature x worth the time and expense? Sometimes the answer is no. One specific comment he makes, which I absolutely agree with, is that accessibility is a continuum – the question is not whether a site is accessible or not (except in the most egregious cases) – it’s how accessible is the site?

But I do disagree on several points. Jeff states that the web community pounces on sites which have missed elements of accessibility because we’re "assuming the reason it’s not there is that the web designers were either lazy, or simply don’t give a damn about handicapped people", rather than because "a decision was made that it wasn’t worth the effort". Woah, there, Jeff! Actually, I go both ways. With a site which has clearly made great strides towards valid code and implemented some accessibility features, I depart very disappointed that business got in the way of accessibility. Only with completely incompetent table-based inaccessible designs to I assume that the web designers are lazy.

I understand that business requires hard decisions sometimes; but I’m still disappointed. I feel very strongly that accessibility is a wise business decision – providing good access to all visitors is good publicity and opens your market wider than it had been before. It is also, of course, the moral high ground – not always the strength of business decision making, unfortunately.

The web is not paper publishing. You cannot treat the web as paper. The web is superior to paper for accessibility, if it’s done right. Why not take advantage of this?

On Responsibility

The more and more I think about accessibility, the more I feel that the burden of accommodating the minorities who have low vision, are color blind, or just have a simple person predilection towards having text really damn big should fall on the operating system and browser makers, not web designers.

You’re right, Jeff. Operating systems and web browsers should provide more means to accomodate disabled users. And if they did, we could just go on our merry way. This is a great ideal – if we could do nothing but provide a beatiful image and have it interpreted by the operating system, our job would be so much easier! But it’s not the case, and we know perfectly well that it isn’t. Yes, there are many systems out there that have some provisions for better accessibility. But there aren’t enough – and not enough people know about them. So we’re stuck having to make certain we’ve done the best job we possibly can. The problem is that if we fail to provide accessibility, people without fancy tools are screwed. If we do provide accessibility, people with fancy tools still may receive the benefits of what we’ve done. Accessibility is for everybody – not just for the people who can afford top of the line computers with the latest accessibility benefits.

On the whole, I think that Jeff’s rant is well-reasoned. I disagree that accessibility has in any way been taken too far – perhaps Jeff’s impressions are largely from the Joe Clark "absolutist" perspective – but not all designers and accessibility advocates are like Joe Clark. The world does need people like Joe Clark to advocate the perfect accessible resource, but it also needs pragmatic developers who will go as far as they can within the limitations they are presented with.

However, there is one paragraph Jeff wrote (in the comments section) which really bothers me:

Basically, I’m for reaching the most accessible point you can without wasting great deals of time on insignificant minorities. Just using semantic markup and separating content from presentation goes a long way towards that.

Don’t ever try and tell me that some minority is insignificant. These are still people; and they still have rights and value. You can’t just write them off because it’s inconvenient. Acknowledge that you have failed to provide their needed level of accessibility and apologize for it. In the final reckoning, you cannot provide access for everybody – but don’t tell me that it would have been a waste of your time.

19 Comments to “Accessibility has NOT been taken too far”

  1. naruto nude This young ass flesh smarting nips that we find halles co stars watching.

  2. I’ll submit photos whenever I remember to take my camera with me when walking around downtown…which, on the basis of my general tendencies isn’t anytime soon.

    I’m horrible at thinking to take the camera out…makes me see the advantage of in-phone cameras!

    It’s no problem, just wanted a little clarification.

  3. Hello Joe,

    Yes, my apologies, I was addressing Jeff. It’s probably inappropriate of me to do so, but Jeff made a valid point about the problem of people bringing in emotions in this debate. I just don’t think it’s possible to separate the two.

    As for my zealot comment, again, it was addressed to Jeff, who was unfortunate enough to be personally attacked by some folks who don’t know where to stop being passionate, and seem to slide into name calling. I was just trying to point out, we, zealots, aren’t all like that :)

    And thanks for the comments on my site. When are you going to submit photos? {grin}

  4. Hi, Caughtya – thanks for your comments. I like your site, by the way – remember it being discussed at AccessifyForums, although I don’t recall that I actually made any comments on it at the time.

    At any rate, your comments are interesting – although I feel like you’re really addressing Jeff, not me, since you quote his comments, his article, and pretty much agree with me. You’re more responding to his comments on this blog than to my own article.

    It left me a bit confused when you said:

    And to finish, please don’t put all “zealots? in the same basket. Some of us who are passionate and “emotional? about accessibility don’t resort to insult, name calling and pouncing ;)

    Just please make it a little clearer who you’re addressing! :)

    Thanks,
    Joe

  5. Some people (which I called “zealots,? perhaps wrongly) seem unable to detach matters of accessibly from emotion. People seem to react with a great deal of passion and often anger instead of responding with reason and logic.

    Then from Jeff’s site:

    I hope someday we’ll be able to discuss this without people being so damn emotional.

    Absolutely, many people are unable to detach emotions from accessibility. I think there are good reasons for that. Not saying it’s necessarily right, or correct, but you can’t dismiss it out of hand.

    The problem I see, is that many people, such as you, perceive accessibility as something to be done to meet the checklist. I’m not expressing this correctly. Let me use an example from outside the web. Many people perceive the Americans with Disabilities Act as a “Brick & Mortar” law, that is one that tells you how wide the door has to be, how steep the ramp, how many TTY’s to provide in a hotel, where to place the Braille sign by the hotel doors, etc. Other people see the ADA as a civil rights law which happens to have building regs included. So, ok, in the US (which I dangerously assume you’re based), unless you’re making a government site, you don’t have a *law* requiring access. But the difference is still there.

    Does one look at accessibility as a question of civil rights, or as a question of making sure the “alt” attribute is there, contrast is correct, etc? The end result might be the same, a site that works for everyone, regardless of impairment or lack thereof. But what’s behind how you look at it will make you react wildly differently.

    For me it *is* a question of civil rights. It’s tempting to say that you might not fully understand this until you’re refused access to a restaurant because you have a guide-dog, refused an appartment lease because you use a wheelchair, access to a website because you’re colour-blind, have a hearing impairment, can’t manipulate a mouse very well, whatever. I’m not saying it, however, because I’ve met too many people who haven’t personally experienced such (wilful or not) discrimination, yet who “get” the civil rights aspect.

    So, yes, for me it *is* an emotional debate. While I understand your position from a business POV, it’s in the way the message is delivered.

    One of the comments on Jeff’s site:

    You could have just as easily written an article about how we should go as far as we can with web accessibility even if sometimes we can’t cover all the bases due to time or financial constraints. Instead you’ve taken the same principle and put an entirely negative spin on it.

    I think Grant hit it right on the head here, sometimes it’s not so much *what* you say as *how* you say it. As you pointed out, we mostly agree. But the delivery is important, as it taints the message.

    And to finish, please don’t put all “zealots” in the same basket. Some of us who are passionate and “emotional” about accessibility don’t resort to insult, name calling and pouncing ;)

  6. No problem, Joe. Thanks for the apology. :)

  7. Is this a joke? You ask me to consider the entirely of the document when you, in your own word, singled out one comment of mine to attack unapologetically? It’s okay for you to pick one comment and attack it, but it’s not okay for me to focus on your final words? Huh?

    You’re absolutely right, here. I’m very sorry. That was a foolish double standard for me to set.

    I’d like to see more discussions about accessibly that don’t eventually descend into “you don’t care about disabled people!? That’s all.

    Amen.

  8. Well, please consider the entirety of the document you just read, not just the final words.

    Is this a joke? You ask me to consider the entirely of the document when you, in your own word, singled out one comment of mine to attack unapologetically? It’s okay for you to pick one comment and attack it, but it’s not okay for me to focus on your final words? Huh?

    But I’m bothered by the attitude that it’s a waste of time.

    You’re bothered by it because the phrase “waste of time” implies a lack of emotional caring. I get that. If it is decided that a particular project should not add accessibility feature x or y because it would take a lot of time in proportion to the tiny size of user it would impact, I call that a “waste of time.” I might also say “there are better uses of our time” or “inefficient.”

    If you have a phrase that is less emotionally jarring than “waste of time,” but means the same thing, I’ll be sure to use it from now on

    I emphasized that paragraph too strongly, in my opinion. It was unnecessary for me to express my feelings so strongly. I apologize for that – but I still feel that your statement was unacceptable.

    Apology accepted. It’s really not a big deal. But this is exactly the sort of thing I was getting at. Some people (which I called “zealots,” perhaps wrongly) seem unable to detach matters of accessibly from emotion. People seem to react with a great deal of passion and often anger instead of responding with reason and logic.

    I’d like to see more discussions about accessibly that don’t eventually descend into “you don’t care about disabled people!” That’s all.

  9. Because, Jeff, I don’t think this is an emotional issue. I think that comment was ill-considered. I am not pouncing on you personally – but I am attacking, unapologetically, that single comment.

    You accuse me of pouncing on you. Well, please consider the entirety of the document you just read, not just the final words. In general I agree with you. However, my feeling is still that no minority is insignificant. It’s OK to decide not to support for them – that happens. But I’m bothered by the attitude that it’s a waste of time.

    We all make careless statements sometimes; I certainly have. Please just consider your words carefully – I may have read something in them you didn’t intend. However, I still feel that I read something in them which was actually there.

    I emphasized that paragraph too strongly, in my opinion. It was unnecessary for me to express my feelings so strongly. I apologize for that – but I still feel that your statement was unacceptable.

  10. Don’t ever try and tell me that some minority is insignificant…

    And this is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about when I say you folks POUNCE on people. You totally read something into my comment that wasn’t there. I obviously meant “insignificant” in the business sense of the word, not in the emotional. Obviously, I know these are people too and I care about them as people. But if there are only two of them out of my millions of users, they may not be significant from a business perspective.

    You’re reading between the lines, making up an interpretation of my comments as you go because this is an emotional issue. Try, for a moment, to take your well-intentioned emotions out of it. Because when you get emotional and imply that I don’t care about minorities, I get emotional back and write blog posts like the one you’re referring to.

    I read through your post nodding my head, mostly agreeing with you, and being appreciate of your constructive comments. And then, in the last paragraphed, you pounced and made it personal. You say you only pounce in light of completely incompetent work on the web. Do I qualify as completely incompetent in your mind?

  11. A fair argument. I’ll happily retract my statement of your absolutism as a poorly articulated point.

    Thank you for your comments.

  12. Actually, I have written, and suffered rebuke for, that some disabilities are effectively impossible to accommodate online. Plus I support the undue-hardship approach found in nearly all accessibility legislation and human-rights codes. And, further, while old inaccessible sites are a problem (and some of them are the biggest on the Web, like Amazon), it is new sites or Redesigns that, in their Failure, truly draw my ire.

    I would not describe this as “absolutist.?

  13. Quote is from Dan Wilkins. http://thenthdegree.com/. Dan is a good mate of mine, if you’re into wicked disability humour and t-shirts, his site is worth a look :)

  14. Thanks, Nic – that’s a great quote. I know I’ve heard it before – I’ll have to pull out the old Bartlett’s!

  15. Joe, thanks for making the comment that no minority is insignificant. I wish I’d written that in my post, considering my favourite quote: “A commmunity that excludes even one of its member is no community at all”…

  16. Thanks, Mike –

    Actually, I was talking tongue-in-cheek at that point. I don’t seriously believe that browsers and operating systems will ever reach a point where they can offer a completely intuitive or automatic accessibility offering.

    For that matter, there’s no guarantee that our supplying the means within the site will actually make web developer provided accessibility features easy to use. The best choice is to provide everything you can, without causing conflicts between systems (read: accesskeys) so that you can provide the greatest opportunity for successful navigation of the system.

  17. Good post, Joe. The only thing I may not fully agree with is that even if browser developers do provide all the needed tools, some of the responsiblity will continue to fall on our shoulders because many people, even those in need, still won’t know how to use their equipment. Often I encounter non-developers that state they didn’t even know they could enlarge the text with their browser. As developers we not only have to contend with a lack of browser functionality, but we must also meet the needs of ignorant users. I don’t mean that to be derogatory. “Ignorant” isn’t a derogatory term, it just sounds that way.

  18. Thanks for your comment, Joe.

    In my opinion, your “absolutist” perspective is the strong opinion that any lack in accessibility is a mark of failure.

    I don’t believe that you think accessibility itself is a black and white issue – however, you do come across through your writing as somebody who does not accept in anyway a failure to accomodate every person possible – and in the best possible manner.

    Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily – it would be unfortunate if you actually didn’t believe that people had made an effort, despite their failure to perfect their site. But to examine a site and call it a failure due to a lack of accessibility is simply being highly critical. You are highly critical.

    I can’t say this with any “personal” knowledge – all I know is your writing. And your writing exhibits a very strong critical strain.

    Is “absolutist” perhaps too strong of a word? Sure. But you don’t pull punches – so you come across pretty forcefully sometimes. I feel like your viewpoint is that of one of the strongest adovcates of accessibility out there – others give ground that you won’t.

    So, that’s my perspective – consider it as you will.

  19. What is my “ ‘absolutist’ perspective?? Do take care in your answer.

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