One of my coaches at the Design Master course asked me what I mean when I use the term accessibility. I tried to explain what I mean by quoting a few sources that explain it quite clearly (I hope). But that post doesn’t necessarily explain why I chose accessibility as my subject. There are three reasons why I like accessible web design. It’s possible, it’s a friendly thing to do, and it’s not very hard.
You might know the famous picture of a tweet sent by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, which was displayed using the audience of the London Olympics as a monitor. The tweet said
This is for everyone. This quote should be taken as literally as possible. The idea that the web should be usable for everybody is one of its core principles. It’s right there at the top of the design principles of the W3C, the organisation whose
mission is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential.
One of W3C‘s primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability
And this accessibility is baked into the different technologies that the web is made of. For instance in the HTML Design Principles document it says:
Design features to be accessible to users with disabilities. Access by everyone regardless of ability is essential. This does not mean that features should be omitted entirely if not all users can make full use of them, but alternate mechanisms should be provided.
This means that any feature within HTML should be accessible, or provide a way to offer an alternative way to use it. HTML, the language that browser use to display content is accessible by default.
Browsers and operating systems have all kinds of APIs and tools in place to make alternative ways of controlling or consuming a website possible. To a browser it doesn’t matter if you click on a button with a mouse pointer or if you activate that button with you keyboard (or a voice command). It will fire the exact same click event. And a browser is equally happy if you read the content of a webpage yourself, or if you let a robot read it for you. The fact that browsers and operating systems work this way means that it is possible to make things that work for very many people with very different abilities and needs.
Making things that people can use is a friendly thing to do. Making things that everybody can use is not just friendly, it’s important. For most people being able to do things independently is normal. For some people it’s much more than that: it’s a liberation. Not needing any help when shopping, or when filling out a tax form, or when visiting a website that is none of anybody else’s business is important. The Government Digital Agency of the UK says it clearly:
It means that people are empowered, can be independent, and will not be frustrated by something that is poorly designed or implemented.
Empowering people, making sure they can be independent, helping them with not being frustrated is a friendly, obvious thing to do. You could even argue that not doing these things on purpose is evil.
It’s not very hard to do
In the foreword to A Web For Everyone, a book about accessible web design, Aaron Gustafson writes:
And it’s really not that hard.
Accessibility is built into the web, into browsers and operating systems. Technically it is very well possible to create accessible websites. The hardest part about accessible design is the fact that it has to do with humans. And humans are hard. In that respect it doesn’t really differ from non-accessible design at all.
- W3C Mission. (2016) Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://www.w3.org/Consortium/mission
- Kesteren, Anne van, and Maciej Stachowiak. (2007) HTML Design Principles. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://www.w3.org/TR/html-design-principles/
- Welcome to the GDS accessibility blog. (2017) Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://accessibility.blog.gov.uk/about/
- Gustafson, Aaron. Foreword to A Web For Everyone. Rosenfeld Media: 2013, Brooklyn, New York. Epub file.