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Introduction to accessibility: what is it?

By on Apr 14, 2005 in Web Applications, Web Design, Web Engineering

We talk about usability a lot here at Loud Dog – it’s the foundation upon which our designs are built. Our philosophy is that attractive designs can be easy-to-use and usable designs can be attractive. We rarely talk about accessibility, however. I’d like to clarify what we mean by accessibility (versus usability), why it’s important, and how we can make sure our sites are accessible.

What is accessibilty (versus usability)?

When I talk about usability on the web, I’m generally talking about ways of making a website easier to use – whether through the site’s organization (information architecture), the layout of content on an individual page and the diagrams and illustrations that illuminate its concepts (information design), how the site responds to user actions – typically on forms (interaction design) and word and naming conventions used throughout the site (taxonomy).

Accessibility refers to whether a disabled person can use the site. It may not necessarily be easy-to-use, but is usable by visitors with disabilities – the blind and deaf, for example. It is less vague than usability, and more technical – that is, there are specific techniques we can employ to make our websites accessible.

Strict adherence to web standards is one step. Many people with disabilities use the web through a text-based browser, or through a speaking browser. Standards-compliant websites are generally less dependent on graphics (though they may be), and have less extraneous code for a disabled person to wade through.

A variety of other techniques are available to make websites more accessible, and I’ll address this in another post.

Why does accessibility matter?

Let’s face facts: most of your site’s visitors are not disabled. It’s going to cost some money to make it accessible. Why should we?

  • Your respect your visitors, and want to give them a good experience, whoever they may be.
  • The techniques we use to make a website more accessible for those with disabilities can make it more accessible to other visitors.
  • “Disabilities” include more than simply being blind or deaf: colorblind people are disabled. In today’s broadband world, someone on a modem is functionally disabled. Someone (like me) that wears glasses is disabled. Someone that turns off features for security reasons is disabled.
  • Future legal implications. Like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), we can expect the US government to eventually inact some sort of regulation governing this.

Futher reading into making sites accessible

For further reading, here’s a very well-done exploration (PDF) of situations in which accessibility matters. I found them insightful and surprising; hopefully you will too.

Hey! This wasn't written by a dazzle of zebras! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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