Accessibility vs BlindSurfer

A couple of interesting posts over at Veerle’s blog show what can happen when only vision impaired users are catered to. In Accessibility, Veerle’s point of view, Veerle noted that her home town’s website has been approved by the BlindSurfer organisation even though the “HTML” is a complete FrontPage generated mess, about as bad as it can get. There was A response from an accessibility consultant from BlindSurfer which makes an interesting read.

I’ve said this before: focusing only on blind and vision impaired users is not the way to go. Accessibility is about all web users. I find the site in question,, just barely accessible and usable, and I am fully abled and use a graphical browser on a desktop computer. I also tried using the site with VoiceOver and sure, it’s possible to get around, but the frames and missing alt attributes make it really hard.

This kind of label of approvement is bad for the overall health of the web.

Posted on June 22, 2005 in Accessibility, Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. Hear, hear.

    Don’t choose one group to target, don’t purposely exclude anyone.

    Try to target everyone, ok?

  2. I thoroughly agree Roger!

    Web accessibility should not solely focus on one disability group of users or even just the physically impaired. Web accessibility applies to everyone who uses the web!

  3. The comments by the accessibility consultant were indeed quite interesting, in as much as it points out that the tools available are focussed on dealing with what exist now in the market.

    And of course, I agree that accessibility is much more than ‘dealing with the blind’. I’ve stated that here before. Note as an aside, I don’t find Veerle’s website very accessible either. Default font is way to small, I had to zoom in 140%. And the colour choice (I saw as a light grey) doesn’t help. I turned off the CSS.

  4. Philippe: “…Note as an aside, I don’t find Veerle’s website very accessible either. Default font is way to small, I had to zoom in 140%. And the colour choice (I saw as a light grey) doesn’t help. I turned off the CSS.”

    I’m sure Veerle would be interested in this comment. Perhaps she could provide a high-contrast alternative style sheet?

  5. @Phillippe: My blog was the first thing I did when I discovered Web standards and was build a long time ago. I’ve learned a great deal since then. I am committed to posting interesting stuff and tutorials on graphic apps and other cool things. Since that takes a lot of my time I can’t progress as fast as I want to on my next design where all those things will be addressed. That’s also why I don’t put any effort in the current design. Yes if I stop posting then I would have time, but would that be fair to my readers I don’t think so. It is easy to criticize but you don’t see the whole picture. We do this for free in our little spare time. You could have send my an e-mail too you know and I would have adjusted font size which I did now ;-)

  6. Interesting: I just wrote virtually the same at the same time!

  7. I think it’s worth remembering that the very interesting discussions on this site and elswhere are indicators that those involved are in broad agreement that designing and building sites to be accessible for as many users as possible is a good thing.

    How one goes about satisfying the desire to make things better in the future AND dealing with current realities seems to be the cause of some differences.

    Before things get too heated, maybe we should remember that everyone sharing these concerns are already more virtuous than the many who haven’t taken the time to understand the problem.

  8. Obviously, mearso. However, it is important to keep it mind that the people who really care about accessibility are by far outnumbered by the ones who do not. So I think we should probably try to make many more people aware of the problem.

  9. @matt (comment 4) - I was using Veerle’s blog as an example that accessibility, and all the problems associated with it, ‘isn’t just for the blind’.

    @Veerle - 1/ Thanks for adjusting the font-size. I could have contacted you, true. I just checked now, couldn’t find a contact link.

    2/ see my answer to matt above, just that, nothing more. If that hurts you, sorry about that.

  10. @Phillipe: Ok maybe my email is only available to members but it is not like my comments were closed. You could have posted it there or clicked on my name in the blog so that you contact me through Posting such comments on someone else’s blog isn’t the appropriate way IMHO. And… I also adjusted contrast btw.

  11. While I appreciate that Roel obviously knows what he’s talking about from both sides and the team put in a lot of hard work, I think BlindSurfer is more of a guide to what works best in a screen reader? Yes, this is making sure that screen readers as they stand can view the sites but as many have said it doesn’t address the underlying problems with accessible sites which should be accessible to all.

    Just a note I’d like to say a big thanks to Roger and everyone out there who blogs about HTML, CSS, accessbility etc as I’ve learnt so much in the past few months! I’m not a designer, just a lowly PHP etc coder :)

  12. Things get heated here! I think this is more a discussion about who’s right the most. It’s becoming a little bit childish and embarrassing. It’s better to learn from or at least to listen to each other since the people from Blindsurfer know what they are talking about. It’s not because you propagate accessibility, you know everything what’s good for the user and what’s not. It’s better to consider other opinions a bit. It won’t hurt!

    I worked for an on line newspaper in Belgium (DSO) and we were confronted a lot with people who have sight problems. At first we were a bit sceptic towards al their wishes during editorial meetings and such. But in the end I started to understand their needs.

    I know my website is far from accessible for people with sight problems. But I do know this sort of impulses will take the whole accessibility to another level. And Roger: you’re right about the fact that accessibility is about all webusers. But the people from Blindsurfer are also a part of all those users. Maybe we should better listen and consider their point of view?

  13. June 24, 2005 by Anonymous

    Ugh? ‘’ do they seriously believe that’s a shining example of accessibly surely they are having a laugh.

    Unless they really do mean for a definite minority group of people with a specific disability and Assistive Device.

    I have a certain well-known and extremely prevalent disability and it certainly doesn’t help mine; thus proving something is wrong there.

  14. I didn’t actually realise you could do anonymous posts but if you were wondering Roger it was me being so shocked by that site I forgot to fill in the form.

  15. Robert, I wish you posted this on my site too. Because you are one of the reasons of my whole discussion. The label in its current state is a total miscommunication. After all the heat I am getting of pointing this out to people it is discouraging to do the right thing.

    I am not ‘obsessed’ by web standards as some might believe, I am for progress, I am for a better web. And OK, to achieve this we need guidance and guidelines. That is what W3C/WCAG give us, so yes I’ll promote it for 100%. It doesn’t mean I will nag as soon as I see a certain site doesn’t validate. It is the effort that counts in the end. But it’s bad people ‘think’ they have done a big effort and instead they haven’t at all, and on top of all rave about it in the press. That’s why my reaction was ‘heated’ at that moment in my article.

  16. I probably am one of the “major reasons” but so are at least 1 in 10 people, if not everyone on the web. I’ll see what I can do later…

    I agree it’s not all about Assistive Devices. I conducted a simple questionnaire a month back on a certain group of people sharing with my ‘cognitive gift’ and not one of them used Assistive Devices on the net.

    Though about 90% of them had difficulty with the web, or filling in the questionnaire from their responses; unfortunately it was a prototype questionnaire and only had about 10 people plus a control group.

    Surprisingly the control group were more likely to adjust the browser’s settings though as was said it wasn’t statistically signification but still useful.

  17. June 24, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Seba 909: Correct, we should be helping each other instead of fighting. We all want pretty much the same thing, don’t we?

    The problem as I see it is that Blindsurfer focuses only on one specific group of disabilities and what works for them now, in their outdated versions of one specific screen reader. What about all the others? What about people who need to increase text size (try it and watch all the horizontal scrollbars that appear)? What about the future of the web? What about device independence?

    If the Deinze site was to be cleaned up and rebuilt without frames and with valid, semantic markup and accessibility in mind, would it become any less usable for Blindsurfer’s target groups? Sure it’s possible, but very unlikely. On the other hand it’s very likely that it would become much more accessible and usable to all web users (as far as a website being accessible to all is possible).

    But that probably won’t happen any time soon because, as Veerle states in the comments to her post A response from an accessibility consultant from BlindSurfer, the people running the site have now been sent a message that their site is really good (or at least that’s how they seem to have interpreted it). And that is very unfortunate.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to Blindsurfer and the people they represent. Absolutely not! Of course their point of view is important, but that goes the other way too.

    I’d like for a few things to come out of this debate:

    • Web standards evangelists need to understand that valid code alone does not make a site accessible.
    • Groups like Blindsurfer need to be careful when they certify sites to avoid sending the message that valid code doesn’t matter at all.
    • We all need to get along. This quibbling won’t get us anywhere.

    Robert: Yes, you can post comments without entering an email address. Many people just put garbage in the email field anyway, so there was no point in requiring it.

  18. I think this discussion made something very clear.

    There is still much debating to do about accessibility and such. Since different groups of the population, f.i. the elderly, people with visual problems, little kids, are on the internet nowadays. We should try to find the happy medium. Although this is going to be tough job. There will always be a discussion about accessible and what’s not.

  19. So, do we consider NN4 support an accessibility question (in a broader sense of the word)? Or older computers/slower connection speeds in use in developing countries?

    I initiated a discussion of accessibility with a client in an international organization who immediately thought I meant accessibility in the above terms. I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t have been.

    Sounds like accessibility needs to be better defined, or levels of accessibility defined, so that both developers and clients can better determine their accessibility goals. I’d love to see some levels defined, with concrete steps that can be taken to meet each level.

  20. June 26, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Marilyn: I think so, yes. That doesn’t mean using outdated web development practices (i.e. tables and spacer GIFs) though. Molly expressed it well in a comment over at And all that Malarkey:

    Another important point here is that accessibility is not just about disability. It relates to the core concept that drove the entire idea behind the Web: Universal access. That means ALL people. So really, when we say accessibility, we have to remember that it pertains not just to the disabled, but to ensuring a Web document is available to anyone, anywhere, using any platform, any user agent, any adaptive technology.

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