Sunday, May 06, 2007

Web Accessibility: Its two, two, two posts in one

As promised, I’m back with more on web accessibility. However, I’m combining the two posts I mentioned into this one today, as the common theme is web accessibility.

Let me begin by saying up front that I readily admit that I am not a geek. While I believe I am somewhat computer savvy, I cannot wear the badge of geek. I know the difference between accessible and inaccessible web sites and software, very often, only by personal experience. I know the particular mechanics of what makes the web page accessible no better than I know what makes the mechanics of a garbage disposal operate. However, I do not have to know what makes them work to understand when they are not working for me.

However, Jeremy Keith is a web developer in Brighton, England, and I think he would fit whatever the criteria is to be a geek. (Mr. Keith, I use the term “geek” with all due reverence. Web developers know and do things I cannot even dream of.)
On his,
Adactio Journal,
Mr. Keith recently penned a very good post about
The Language of Accessibility,
Where he reflects upon a recent conference he attended in Germany.

His discussion takes us down the path of what accessibility means. In some pretty good layman’s language, he talks about things like markup language, which non-techies like myself may not know much about, but the results of which we know very well. His words in the two paragraphs below say a lot.

“Far from being something that is added to a site, accessibility is something we need to ensure isn’t removed. From that perspective, the phrase “making a site accessible” isn’t accurate.”

“Just as “progressive enhancement” sounds better than “graceful degradation”, talking about accessibility as something that needs to be added onto a website isn’t doing us any favours. Accessibility is not a plug-in. It’s not something that can be bolted onto a site after the fact.”

Mr. Keith goes on to suggest that web designers follow his new understanding: he will talk about keeping a site accessible rather than talking about making a site accessible”

That truly does sound like the language of accessibility. Thanks for sharing it with us, Mr. Keith.

I have only offered a bit of Mr. Keith's words and insight here. Do check out his post and also check out the speech made by the speaker at the conference he attended. Those words are the foundation for the piece and will ring just as true with you.

And, for today’s second feature presentation, I offer this posting from the
Titled The State of the Art of Interactive Design.

The piece starts with a simple, but fairly accurate assessment of the progression of the internet, finishing up with a projection with where it may lead. It then weaves in the need for accessibility as an essential element, stating, “Accessibility has become one of the driving forces in web design.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure that I totally agree with that statement, but it is a nice thought.

And, maybe the writer of that piece doesn’t totally agree with that thought either, because he soon follows it by saying, “Unfortunately, most websites have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use the Web.”

Then, when he begins to speak to web developers and what they can do to make web content accessible, he also begins to use the techie lingo I’m not fully fluent in, but understand what they mean to accessibility. These include the need for developers to use XHTML and CSS. He further adds further incentive for developers to use these techniques as they aid in optimizing the site for search engines. If somebody is going to create web content, it makes sense that they would want the search engines to be able to find it.

As with Mr. Keith’s post, I have only presented a small portion of what the writer presents. This one is truly worth investing the time to read the full post. And, also like Mr. Keith’s post, worth sharing with your colleagues in web development.

Like I said earlier, I don’t have to understand what these web development techniques are to understand their impact. Describing inaccessible web content for me is much like that one judge said about pornography, I may not be able to tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it. Being I’m totally blind, maybe the more accurate way of wording that phrase would be to say, “I know it when I don’t see it.”

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