Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Nevermind the Accessibility

I’ve not spoken about accessibility for quite a while but there’s been a lot of interest in the topic, both for and against accessibility mainly due to this little bit of news “ Judge allows class action against Target Web site“.

The debate this week has really centered around whether Target should have been taken to court because of their inaccessible site or whether the customers should really have simply taken their business elsewhere.

This subject really comes down to a human rights issue and whilst the customers could quite easily have gone elsewhere and decided not to increase the profit of Target, the fact remains, why should they just because they have a disability?

By law, a business must provide wheel chair access for the disabled either by means of ramps or elevators and as of 1999, the WAI guidelines and Section 508 guidelines became law in a number of countries to ensure that websites were accessible.

In 2000, The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games were found to have engaged in unlawful conduct by providing a site which was inaccessible to the blind. They were given a warning and ordered to fix the problems by the time the Olympics started. This ruling was ignored and a fine of $20’000 was imposed.

The guidelines were introduced 8 years ago, whilst the first legal action against an inaccessible site occurred in 2000, so this should have given plenty of time for Target to put a plan in place to create at least one new site that would provide basic accessibility.

This lawsuit hasn’t been aimed at a small business who have had a website running since 1995 and don’t have the resources to update their website. This lawsuit has been aimed at a large business in the U.S. that should have more than enough resources to create a fresh new re-brand of their website, say every few years?

In fact, using the Web Archive website and just clicking on a few dates showed some interesting results.

In my opinion this demonstrates that Target have had plenty of opportunities to implement accessibility but have chosen to ignore the WAI and Section 508 guidelines and the needs of the people that the law was brought in to protect on a consistent basis.

The Cost of Accessibility

People who don’t understand the industry seem to think that by implementing accessibility into a website it is going to double or triple the cost of creating a website but this simply is not true.

If a site is inaccessible then admittedly it may take some reworking but designing an accessible site from scratch should take no more time and effort than creating an inaccessible one.

When designing a site, if things like accessibility and search engine optimisation are considered from day one then they can be included in the code. Any good web designer should also include accessibility within their work at no extra cost as it’s simply good practice to code HTML and CSS with accessibility and web standards in mind so any company claiming that they’ve ignored accessibility because of the cost implications simply don’t understand the subject correctly.

I’m not for a second suggesting all sites should achieve AAA standard or be subject to rigorous accessibility testing but by ensuring that simple things are in place like alt text, skip to content links, underlining navigable text, providing a decent amount of contrast between text and background colours, ensuring that JavaScript isn’t used for critical functionality etc, you are ensuring that the fundamental elements are in place not only for disabled users but also ensure that your site is more usable for all your users.