Coding with Jesse

Accessibility Is About Minimizing Requirements

September 30th, 2007

What are the minimum requirements for using the web?

  • an Internet connection
  • a web browser

What are the minimum requirements for using your web site? Well, the answer could include any of the following:

  • a high-speed Internet connection
  • a keyboard
  • a mouse (and the ability to use a mouse)
  • a large computer screen (eg. 1024x768+)
  • specific web browser versions (eg. IE 7, FF 2+)
  • specific browser plugins and version (eg. Flash 7 or VRML)
  • JavaScript
  • a PDF viewer
  • near perfect vision
  • lack of colour blindness
  • knowledge of a language (English) or jargon (web development)
  • potentially many more...

How many requirements does your site make? How many are really necessary and how many can you eliminate?

Being accessible means minimizing requirements. The less requirements you have, the more freedom people have to use your site, the more accessible it is to the world.

The more requirements you make, the more you're requiring people to have specific devices, software and even physical abilities that may not be possible. As a result, the site becomes inaccessible to some.

Of course, some requirements are necessary. Can you imagine a web site translated into every language? And what would this blog be without assuming a basic knowledge of HTML, JavaScript and CSS?

But how many are just trivial requirements, made to save a bit of programming or decision making? And how many are simply unreasonable given the wide range of physical and technical limitations people face in the world?

One thing is for sure: plain HTML makes the fewest requirements. Start with that and add other technologies carefully and unobtrusively.


Interested in web development? Subscribe to my newsletter!

Comments

1 . Mohamed Jama on October 2nd, 2007

Mohamed Jama

Excellent read!!

2 . Dustin on October 2nd, 2007

Dustin

What is the % of users of the internet that are
1. blind
2. using a computer with out a keyboard or a mouse
3. color blind

Also, what about sites that are say a game? Should sites like this try to attract the blind or people with out mice?

3 . Jesse Skinner on October 3rd, 2007

Jesse Skinner

1. According to the AFB (http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15):

"there are approximately 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States"

So that would be approximately 3.33% in the USA.

2. I'm not sure how many people use the web without a keyboard or mouse, but that would include many people using mobile devices as well as those with physical disabilities. Even the iPhone has a very limited "keyboard" and "mouse", ie. there is no way to hit Ctrl or drag-and-drop.

3. For colour blindness, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_blindness) says:

"In Australia, for example, it occurs in about 8 percent of males and only about 0.4 percent of females."

But I don't think these numbers matter. You shouldn't be asking "will I be excluding a small enough portion that I can ignore them or get away with it?", but simply "do I need to exclude anyone at all?". If you have an interactive game, then the answer might be yes. If not, you'll have to make that decision carefully.

4 . Dustin on October 3rd, 2007

Dustin

Interesting. That's a pretty high percent. If you figure that color blind and blind are 2 different things you could have 10% of your users be one or the other.

Thanks for the info.

5 . Steve B on October 5th, 2007

Steve B

In Canada the "Participation and Activity Limitation Survey" (PALS) of 2001 (http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/89-577-XIE/) put the figure at about 1 in 8, or %12. The next release of stats is due in January 2006.
This is not just about people with visual disabilities. How about someone with CP who can only "tab" through a page using a mouth or head-stick? Are you going to make them tab 56 times to get to the main content?
Accommodating the blind user is EASY! They use a screen reader. We know what they can do.
Everyone else? Now there's a problem!
The blind users have the most effective lobby group, therefore, the get the most attention. The mobility impaired, low vision, cognition/learning impaired are left to fend for themselves.

Just some food for thought.

6 . Fred Boulton on October 15th, 2007

Fred Boulton

To quote Steve B:

"Accommodating the blind user is EASY! They use a screen reader. We know what they can do."

Not that easy! Some Web pages are a jungle for screen readers. You just need to make sure that your Web site is easy for the screen reader to use.

Clean code, CSS, minimal JS, minimal Flash, lots of alt text...

7 . Richard Morton on October 16th, 2007

Richard Morton

Minimising requirements is a good way of looking at accessibility, but it isn't the whole picture. I love the visual aspects of the web, a good Flash site looks great for example. The problem lies in several areas:

1) Accessibility should be at the forefront of web design (and non-web applications, operating systems etc.) If that is the case, then almost everything else follows (I say almost because there are some compromises to be made e.g. between needs of different categories of disability like learning disabilities, dyslexia, visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical impairment.

2) Until web authoring tools and browsers are designed for maximum accessibility, some extra work is needed to make sites accessible. Imagine in the future when developing a complete Flash site will be fine because all the accessibility needed in terms of structure, links, visual changes, language etc. will be automatically included.

3) We don't need to dumb down the web and make it all text and links. Yes that would solve many accessibility problems (although not all), but the great thing about computers is that the potential is there to have all the bells and whistles as well. Take an off-web example. To make a printed book fully accessible just isn't possible, there are too many variations, of text size, colour, background colour, braille, audio, language, but that doesn't mean that we don't print the book.

4) The biggest problem is lack of motivation. Until a few organisations start getting stung in the courts, very little will be done to improve accessibility. You only have to look at accessibility of government websites, law firms, and big brands, to see that we have a long way to go before the law has any teeth.

8 . Jesse Skinner on October 16th, 2007

Jesse Skinner

@Richard - thanks for the excellent comment!

9 . Steve B on October 16th, 2007

Steve B

Fred:
You're right, it's not really that easy to accommodate blind clients/customers unless you are familiar with web standards, write valid code and all the other thing you mentioned.
When you get into the whole "Universal Accessibility", "Progressive Enhancement" debate then you have to be a cut above.
How far do you go with "plain language", line height, word spacing, multimedia accommodation, alternate formats, alternate input devices, and on and on?
Which disabilities are marginal and can be, possibly, below the cost-benefit cut off?
It can be really quite daunting if you want to adopt to a "leave no-one behind" philosophy. It can be done although, it takes a lot of forethought and commitment.
It takes a lot of leg work.
It is really fascinating and rewarding when you delve into it.
It is also a S***-load of work to keep on top of all the new ways of being inaccessible by default.
Still a good gig, though.

10 . aasia on March 22nd, 2008

aasia

first sensible and easy to understand website i have come across.

very impressive.

11 . Charlie J on March 26th, 2008

Charlie J

I'm finding that I'm not easily buying into the web accessibility for everyone mindset. When you design for everyone, you end up designing for nobody. How about designing web pages for people who are blind and deaf? Why should they be excluded from the web experience? Do we need monitors that "display" in Braille? You want a website that's friendly for the vision impaired? Then design a website that has nothing other than text for content, easy! The underlying CSS mantra of webpages that please everyone, coupled with overriding, user dictated browser options, is absolutely maddening for web designers who want to add any kind of reproducible artistic element to their website design. What other form of media (books, magazines, movies, TV, ....) go to anywhere near such lengths to please everyone? If people have problems seeing, then how about they wear glasses with higher magnification? Sorry, I don't get it. It's political correctness and charity gone mad in my opinion.

12 . Jesse Skinner on March 26th, 2008

Jesse Skinner

@Charlie - It sounds like your imagination is overwhelming you. Designing web pages to be accessible has nothing to do with Braille or abandoning CSS and small fonts.

I think you'll find that many of the same things you can do to make a site accessible to the blind will also make the site perform better on Google. You could consider the Google bot to be rather blind - it can only interpret text. Just avoid having text that is "hidden" inside images, Flash or JavaScript and you should be on the right track.

13 . Charlie J on March 26th, 2008

Charlie J

Hey Jesse,

I appreciate your comments regarding search engine spyders and making a site easy for them to crawl. I would like to see some evaluation results that show the difference in page ranking that occurs for a site designed using tables versus the same site designed with CSS.

Regarding my imagination, I think you're missing my point. I love the technical concept of CSS and the control it gives designers. What I don't like is the social concept that underlies it and the fact that a user can destroy all your CSS efforts by changing their browsers display settings. If people have trouble seeing, why don't they get better glasses or lower the resolution setting on their monitor, instead of hitting ctrl+ or crtl- and turning a great looking website into something that's painful to look at. Go to Zen Garden, you can easily turn the entries there into a compromised/ugly visual experience by a few ctrl+ or ctrl- clicks.

14 . Jesse Skinner on March 26th, 2008

Jesse Skinner

@Charles - I think it's important to realise that you'll never make a site that looks perfect for everyone. That's not the point of accessibility. Design your site to look good in 90% of browsers, but make it so that the other 10% can still use the site, even if it looks awful. "Ugly" does not necessarily stop people from being able to access the content and functionality, and that is what accessibility literally means.

I'm sure people who have font sizes set very high are used to designs breaking, and I'm sure they're willing to trade that for the ability to read the text.

15 . Charlie J. on March 26th, 2008

Charlie J.

Hi Jesse,

Good points. Thanks for your feedback!

Charlie

16 . ruth on August 29th, 2008

ruth

Whilst I appreciate the forward thinking behind constructing an accessible (by all) website.

It is not just a matter of colour/style/layout/font sizes.

What about: Tab index or access keys?
What about long description and alt tags?

Surely, these must also be considered?

Comments are closed, but I'd still love to hear your thoughts.