Online accessibility

 In my last post, I talked about the death of Flash, which pretty much dictated my workload this year. However another consistent theme has been accessibility.

Accessibility is obviously a topic that is very close to my heart. I live every day with the challenges of inaccessible places and I don't just understand the frustrations, like an outsider watching in... They are very much my own frustrations. Although my frustrations are largely physical, they enable me to understand how it affects a disabled person when they cannot access something because it has been designed badly.

Who is affected?

There are many reasons why somebody might struggle to access online content. The most obvious is if they are blind or visually impaired, but think about all the different things you do online. You have to see it, hear it, understand it, read it, remember it, operate it, interact with it... and these can all be difficult, or even impossible for some people.

In the same way as I use a wheelchair and a variety of other mobility aids to enable me to move around, many people use assistive technologies to enable them to use their computer and access online content. This might be a screen reader, captions, the ability to dictate and navigate by voice. The limits are endless.

Universal design

I've had the experience of an alternative route. Everyone else uses the main entrance to a building, but I get sent round the back, past the smelly bins, through the kitchens, etc. to get to the same table in the restaurant. It's access but it doesn't feel equal. I feel like a lesser person. I feel like I matter less.

I think this might happen more with online content (if accessibility is even considered at all). Do we make a piece of eLearning and then realise it can't be accessed and so produce a Word version which lacks the interactivity, lacks all the videos but is better than nothing? I think this would be very poor practice! I accept that old buildings have to be adapted but there is no excuse for new buildings. They should be built so that everyone can access them. You factor that in during the design process. It's the same with online content. It makes no sense to build something and then try to adapt it to make it accessible. Design it to be accessible from the start.


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines give very clear instructions about what needs to be made accessible and how to do it. I nearly always have these guidelines open while I work. They are a useful reference and provide the prompts I need to make sure my content is accessible. 

The downside of the guidelines is that they can appear too complicated. Like most guidelines, there are too many to remember unless you are 'in the trade' so the average person just ignores them. I get that but let's go back to a physical analogy.

My street... my neighbourhood is step free. The paths are wide enough to get a wheelchair through. At crossing points, the kerbs have been dropped. That makes it accessible, right? Wrong! It is only accessible if the people who live around me, the average man in the street, maintains it accessibly.

If people put their bins out and just discard them in the middle of the path, I can't get past. If they fail to cut back their privet hedges, such that half the pavement disappears, I can't get past. If they allow their dog to poo on the dropped kerb and don't pick it up, I'm left with a very difficult choice. (Believe it or not, that was yesterday). 

There was a time when only professionals published stuff. Now, with the Internet as it is, we can all publish stuff. Websites, blogs, videos, podcasts... we are all content developers. This means that accessibility must be the responsibility of all of us. 

Over the next few posts, I'm going to give you some tips about how you can make your content accessible. Don't dismiss it as not for you or not your responsibility. That makes you the neighbour who leaves your bin in the middle of the path. Don't assume that none of your readers need it. Just over 20% of people in the UK have a disability that is covered under the Equality Act 2010. If you assume that none of your friends are disabled, what does that say about you? Statistically, one in every five of your contacts should have some kind of disability. You just might not know about it. 

We're about to enter a new year. On behalf of every disabled person who struggles with online accessibility, I plead with you to make just one new year's resolution. Take some small steps to ensure that you don't inadvertently prevent access for all.



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