Monday, 8 August 2011

The Right Thing to Do

I'm currently writing an article for another website about website accessibility. It's a learning experience for me, because I really don't know a whole lot about website accessibility. I've interviewed a man who does, though, and I was really impressed by his level of commitment to accessibility testing for websites.

Why Accessibility?

People ask about accessibility (for physical spaces and for websites), "Why should we go through the cost and effort for something that's going to benefit such a small group?"  The simple answer is, as I've discussed elsewhere, is that when you use the principles of universal of design, whether it's for a physical space or a space on the Internet, you benefit everybody - even people without disabilities who, for whatever reason, have an easier time accessing the space when universal design is available.

For example, people with visual disabilities often find that the option to change the font size on a website allows them to find the way for them to best view the website. A person prone to headaches may also find that being able to increase the font reduces the incidence of their headaches. Or, a person like me who finds that software video tutorials simply move too fast may prefer to read the transcript provided for people with hearing impairments, even though my hearing is fine.

So, a well-designed, accessible site can potentially draw a lot of people to it.  The accessibility of the website may be what wins out when, say, a person who is red-green colourblind is trying to decide from which online store to purchase clothing, or when a person with a severe hearing impairment is trying to decide from which educational institution to take online courses.  These may seem like isolated incidents, but for a website that's counting on a high traffic over the long-term to survive, the "isolated incidents" are going to add up. Businesses especially can't afford *not* to look at an accessible website, any more than they can't afford not to look at being as physically accessible as possible.

The Right Thing to Do

And then there's the argument that accessibility, both physical and on the Internet, is just the right thing to do.

When I was waiting around after my first stroke and between my surgery to see what what the doctors wanted to do next, I volunteered at a social services agency in the area.  I had a discussion one day with one of the employees about physical accessibility. I said that I understood why, in a town full of such small businesses that struggled from season to season, making their buildings physically accessible was too much to take on financially.

"I don't." he said. He talked about how there were government grants to make buildings accessible, and how inaccessible buildings were a form of discrimination.

"You really think so?" I said.

"I certainly do," he said. He went on to talk about how if the business people in the town really thought that people in wheelchairs were good enough to be in their establishments, they'd find a way to make their establishments acceptable.

It was truly a different way of looking at the issue for me.  And I have to admit that after spending a year in a wheelchair, I've become much more militant about physical accessibility issues, especially in businesses.  As a person with disabilities, my money is just as good as anyone else's; if a business doesn't want to make me feel comfortable in its store (or doesn't want to even ensure that I can get in; I *have* run into this), then I'll take my money to a business that will.

I imagine that after I finish writing this article, I'll be looking at websites in a new way, too. And I certainly have some work to do on this website.

Because it's the right thing to do.

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