Techology

Website Accessibility is a Human Right

The lawsuit in the United States against Dominos should be of interest to everyone. They’ve asked the Supreme Court to rule that their website should not be required to be accessible to blind visitors due to cost, and a lack of clarity around the actual accessibility requirements.

Imagine if they were asking the Supreme Court to rule that their physical premises did not have to be accessible to the blind, those using wheelchairs, people taller than six feet…you get my point. It doesn’t make any sense when applied to websites either.

Some years ago Jonathan Mosen did a talk at the Wellington Town Hall about accessible (and inaccessible) websites. After his introduction about accessibility, during which he did not mention his being blind, he summed up by saying, at the end of this talk you’ll be able to see that short people can used the internet too. Interestingly, his worst site at the time was Hell’s Pizza, which used a Flash-based interface. “This website is Hell”, he said. That was a turning point for me.

Having built a few websites in my time, like this one, all of them to a high accessibility standards, I firmly believe that accessible websites are a human right. You might argue that Public Sector websites, or sites with government funding must be accessible, but that private sector websites should be allowed to operate ‘in the market’. I don’t agree. The internet is a public space; the rules should be the same for everyone.

The arguments raised by Dominos are high cost and lack of clarity around the requirements. Let’s unpack those.

Accessibility Requirements

Let me introduce exhibit one – the Web content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG (pronounced wikag). These outline a number of best-practices and levels of accesibility for websites, and not just for blind visitors.

The New Zealand goverment have their own recommendations, based on these, for state sector sites, which is somewhat more readable and good introduction.

There are dozens of sites that expand on WCAG, offering engineering solutions and implementation advice for all of the requirements. It’s not that difficult.

So on point one, the requirements are clear and unambiguous, and there are plenty of resources to help.

Cost

Retrofitting a website to be accessible to screen-readers, which is their main argument, is very expensive. I say too bad.

The point here is that the site should not have been built that way in the first place; the guidelines have been around for over a decade. No one should be making website that don’t follow the W3C web standards, and WCAG.

If you design and build a website with accessibility in mind, the extra cost is trivial, and I’d argue that there is, in fact, no extra cost – this is now the way that we build websites. it’s not the gold standard, it just ‘The Standard’. For NZ Government agencies, it’s the law, so no arguments there, I hope.

What should I do?

If accessibility practice is not part of how you work, make it the number one priority until it is.

Secondly, include a section on accessibility in any tender you issue for a new website. Have a way to test the examples provided by respondents. Don’t hire companies who don’t pass this test, regardless of “how good their work is”. It’s not that good, trust me.

Thirdly, become an advocate for accessibility and accessibility practices. Ensure that accessibility issues are discussed, engage with the community. Yes, real people. Build relationships and truly under their challenges.

I hope a day comes when we don’t have to refer to ‘them’. I don’t like the term. Them is us…

One final note. Access to physical spaces is not even up for debate anymore, but we can still do more to make workplaces accessible to all. That includes making jobs accessible to all suitable applicants, not just those who can meet a somewhat narrow, and sometimes unconsidered constraints. But that’s for another day.

P.S. Jonathan kindly checked the NZ site and had this to say: “…I just checked and they still have their accessible online ordering option. Everything, including tracking, was fully accessible when I used it a few years ago. Once again NZ leads the way.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s