When Accessibility Really Matters

Album Cover: Pretty Hate Machine

"If I was twice the man I could be, I'd still be half of what you need."
NIN / Ringfinger

Posted on May 19, 2004 2:00 PM in Web Design
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

One of the things that seems to get paired more than anything else with the benefits of web standards is accessibility. If you're big on accessibility, you've no doubt heard of Bobby, and the number 508 probably has more meaning to you than it does to most people. You've also no doubt heard of how important it is to make your website(s) as accessible to everyone (most relevantly speaking, the blind) as you can.

Now, I got to thinking about this earlier today and realized that accessibility isn't always a top priority, and sometimes it doesn't need to be a priority at all. I can certainly understand why complaining about the accessibility shortcomings of a web application like Google's new GMail is important, and why such applications should try to be as accessible as possible. That being said, though, there are certainly other sites on the Web whose owners should not be losing sleep at night because their site isn't accessible (myself included).

Now if you're one of those people who sees the frequent threesome of XHTML, CSS and 508 at the bottom of your favorite websites and blogs and thinks they should be mutually inclusive, you are probably ready to burn me at the stake. Let me just say that I believe in accessibility and that in a perfect world, all sites would be completely accessible. However, after spending quite a bit of time ensuring that my site is rather accessible (through the use of font sizing, web standards, acronyms, link titles, alt tags, etc.), I've come to the conclusion that it may have all been for naught.

Consider the fact that my blog probably sees no more than 100 visitors per day (this number is extremely generous). How many of those visitors do I think is blind (or has a visual impairment)? Probably less than 1%. That may well be equal to or maybe even less than the number of users visiting with Netscape Navigator 4. I make no attempt to appease users of that particular browser (mostly because I wish it never existed, but also because of the percentages involved), so should I really be devoting the extra time it takes to make my site screen reader friendly? Your answer here may vary. My answer is yes, just because I'm a nice guy and I try to take the high road on all occasions, but at the same time, my dark side knows that I am probably doing more time wasting than I am accessibilizing (I love new words).

The point of all of this is don't get caught up in the hooplah of making sure your site is accessible to everyone. Chances are, by sticking to web standards, you're doing a lot to enhance your site's accessibility without the extra effort. Realize who your visitors are, and make sure the people you want to hear what you have to say (or see what you have to show) can do so without any hindrances. You'll be doing not only your site's visitors, but yourself, a huge favor.


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