How accessible is your website?
Thousands of people around the world purchase screen reading software to enable them to use computers, tablets and mobile phones effectively on the internet. The common misconception is that only blind and visually impaired people use this software, but this is not the case. Although the visually impaired community accounts for a large percentage of the world’s screen reader users, people with motor impairment and learning difficulties also use them to great effect.
Sadly only a small percentage of websites out there are fully accessible to screen reader users. Unfortunately very few corporations, companies, organisations and small businesses even consider whether their website is accessible. This isn’t to say that the number of accessible websites is not increasing, because it is, albeit very slowly. There are certainly a far greater number of accessible websites now compared to just five years ago.
So who is to blame?
The website developers? Probably not, as they tend to work to their client’s specifications and to whatever the current minimal accepted level of accessibility is at the time. This isn’t to say that some web developers don’t try to go the extra mile and work hard on accessibility, because some certainly do.
The web developer’s clients, the corporations, companies, organisations and small businesses then? Probably not them either. After all, more often than not they simply want a website that looks good, that works, that promotes their product or service and that won’t cost them a fortune to have built or to maintain.
The disabled community perhaps? Again probably not. A vast majority of visually impaired and disabled people wouldn’t know how to build a website in the first place and those that do already do a huge amount to improve accessibility where they can. In fact the greatest leaps forward in accessibility have been as a result of the technically minded members of the disabled community having direct influence in its development.
So what’s the answer?
To be honest I don’t think there is a correct answer, but here are my thoughts.
The disabled community really does need to speak up more and communicate with web developers and the corporations, companies, organisations and small businesses that purchase their web building services. It is no good our complaining about inadequate accessibility if we are not talking to the people who can change it. There is a lot of ignorance out there about accessibility and I think it is our part to play to improve the situation by educating people about it. I don’t just mean negative communication either; if something works and improves our web experience we should be letting the web developers know. Equally when things are not working we need to communicate in a constructive and informative manner, not just blowing hot air. Without constructive feedback it is exceptionally difficult for web developers to make positive changes.
As far as the corporations, companies, organisations and small businesses are concerned I think it is quite difficult. I think what it really boils down to here is a lack of awareness when it comes to accessibility, which of course is where what I said above comes in. Having said that however I do wonder if they ever think about how much their potential client base could grow if the percentage of people that are currently unable to navigate their websites could suddenly access them. I do feel that many simply overlook or dismiss the disabled community as not being viable clients or customers and I think that is something that really ought to change.
Regarding web developers; again this is a difficult one as the default position seems to be to work to the minimum industry standard for accessibility. That is of course a generalisation, I have come into contact with some outstanding web developers who are very inclusive of accessibility and who strive to improve it on an ongoing basis. There are a very small number of course like the one I spoke to around eighteen months ago who told me that the number of disabled people using the internet that struggle with accessibility is insignificant when it comes to the number of internet users worldwide, so it didn’t really matter if the sites he developed were accessible as his clients didn’t care about it. I wonder whether they genuinely didn’t care or if actually they just didn’t understand about the impact that accessibility can have, or even if they understood what accessibility is. With that extreme example aside I think that on the whole web developers are quite open to feedback, particularly if it is constructive. It would be quite nice if more developers approached disabled user groups and asked for their feedback during development rather than as an afterthought, but again what need is there if their clients are not bothered about it?
In summary I feel that it is the responsibility of all of us whether disabled, a web developer or a purchaser of website building services to spread the word about accessibility and make it an industry standard rather than an inconvenience.
Part of my mission is to make disabled people more able to be independent through the use of technology. This of course means desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The ability to successfully navigate the internet and the websites that they want to visit has an enormously positive impact upon disabled individuals. Believe me, I know, I am one of those people. It creates the possibility of building networks of disabled peers as well as more inclusion in the general community. Let’s not forget that disabled people would still like to shop online, read local news online, hire solicitors or buy insurance online, just because we are disabled doesn’t mean we don’t want to do the same things as those who aren’t.