Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Innovations of iPhone should lead to greater overall web accessibility

In June of last year, I wrote a post here about the
inaccessibility of Apple’s iPhone.

My biggest gripe still today about the product is that being that the iPhone uses a touchscreen, the trendy and coveted geek toy is inaccessible to anybody who has a disability and is unable to touch the screen. That includes people who are blind or have a motor impairment that limits the manual dexterity required to accomplish that task.

This leads me into an article I just came across by web development author Christopher Schmitt, wherein he states the case that
iPhone specific web development is misguided.

In this well proposed presentation, Schmitt states that there are implications for web surfing that the iPhone has forever change, and, as such, its competitors will certainly follow suit just to stay competitive. The primary point is the fact that
Web sites no longer need to design their sites specifically for a mobile device.

Schmitt argues that developers need not design web content which will only be maximized on the iPhone, but optimized for all. The crux of his presentation is centered around accessibility, not just as being the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen, but as a sound business model. Simple economics dictate that making a web site which is accessible to all makes it open to the widest audience possible. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Schmitt writes:
“Apple recently sold its first million iPhones. Yet, there are an estimated 37 million Americans with sensory and physical disability between the ages of 16 to 64.”

“If only ten percent of these 37 million people with disabilities surf the Web on an assistive technology, their numbers are 300% greater than every iPhone sold.”

However, I think the most sensible and emphatic plea for making accessibility a priority for web developers can be discerned from Schmitt’s conclusion:
“If your Web site is geared to run on assistive technologies like screen readers, hand wands , eye tracking, voice recognition, or braille displays, the odds are that you’ve opened your site up to more of an audience than the iPhone crowd.”

Again, I sincerely believe that makes perfect sense, both business-wise and doing the right thing-wise.

In light of the argument Schmitt makes, perhaps I need to not be too hard on the iPhone. While the iPhone may still be inaccessible, there are prospects that this may one day evolve with insightful use of third party applications. And, the inaccessibility of the iPhone itself may be offset by the opening of doors for greater web accessibility as a whole due to the innovation that the device has brought to the mobile phone market.

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