How did you get into Web accessibility?

In What’s *Your* Story?, Ian Lloyd wants to know what made everybody get into Web accessibility. It’s a great question, and I find it very interesting to read the stories people have posted so far.

Personally I have several reasons for advocating Web accessibility. First of all an idealistic one:

  • I want everybody to be able to use the Web. I am not disabled (yet), so I can (and am often forced to) muddle through sites that are badly built, but a person with a disability may not be able to. Since it is possible to build sites that almost everybody can use, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.

Then a few reasons that some may call selfish:

  • I do not have any problems related to motor skills, but I have a really hard time using dropdown and flyout menus, especially hierarchical ones, as well as phony Flash or JavaScript scrollbar imitations. Accessible sites in general either do not contain such obstacles or provide ways around them.
  • Despite having no substantial eyesight problems, I find reading tiny text (below 11px is tiny to me), low contrast text, and reading any size high contrast, light-on-dark text to be very straining. A website designed with accessibility in mind is less likely to cause legibility problems for me.
  • I like being able to use my keyboard to navigate websites. Accessible sites are keyboard friendly since they do not force people to use a mouse.
  • I am a Mac user. In the late 90’s/early 2000’s, plenty of websites either intentionally blocked access for Mac users or were built specifically for Internet Explorer for Windows, and did not work in other browsers. The situation has improved somewhat in the last few years, but it still happens. Since sites that are accessible to all do not shut out people based on the browser or operating system they use, I and all other Mac users can use those sites.

Head on over to and let Ian know why you got into Web accessibility. If you feel like it, you’re welcome to post your response here as well.

Posted on February 27, 2007 in Accessibility, Quicklinks


  1. I think Steve Krug’s idea that “web accessibility is the profoundly right thing to do” is a good start. Personally it’s also a karma thing - my parents (in their 60s) both got into using the web a while back and I realised how annoying it would be having to read fixed, 8px font size if my eyes were going, and so on.

    The other side of the coin being efficiency - probably a weird character trait, but I really enjoy taking bloated tag soup and making it lean, mean and transportable across any format …

  2. As you are a Mac user, I’m a GNU/Linux user, and it was my first step into standards ;)

    In fact I’m not really concerned about accessibility by itself, it’s generally just a consequence of what I’m interested in: standards and simple user interfaces. Following accessibility guidelines, I often end-up improving both, or to make good choices when I design something.

  3. I’ve had a pretty nasty accident six years ago where I came very close to losing one of my eyes. My vision was very blurry for a month or two and I’m still left with some ironplates in my head, twisted vision in one eye and regular discomfort and pain from the accident. Although luckily I’m able to get on with my life with no real limitations it made it very clear to me that disability is only a split second away from all of us.

  4. No disability here. I’m just a web designer who’s since begun teaching web design for a little over two years now. I guess for me I’ve been frustrated with web sites that I have to muddle through to use. I let my students know that they lose points for accessibility issues, when in reality they could lose thousands of dollars in lawsuits - as is the case with companies like target and the sydney olympics.

    So I must admit that it’s still frustrating to use web sites that lack accessibility features, especially when it comes to getting them to work on a macintosh. Just this month alone I’ve dealt with three sites and after addressing problems with their customer support I’ve gotten responses such as I should use Opera or I should ensure I have javascript enabled or make sure I have the latest Acrobat to access forms that for some reason are only accessible through a Flash element that doesn’t function on a macintosh. In one instance of an educational institution I’m attending their response was:

    “you must admit, that there are more computers at VCC than macintosh, and all you have had to do was to access a PC with ADOBE and waa laa, the form is done, and the problem has gone away.”

    So how do you recommend getting through to these personnel besides informing them of the history of other web sites such as target and the sydney olympics getting sued? It’s pretty sad that that’s the only thing that gets some people to understand the importance of accessibility. I bet if someone were to review all of the web sites for educational institutions just in the U.S. that a huge majority would NOT pass the test.

  5. First off, I would rank Rogers first reason pretty high. I don’t really know how that came to be, but I sort of seriously got into web development at a time (a couple of years ago) when the web standards movement started to gain real momentum, and had the good fortune to quickly find good writers on the subject (“role models” if you wish).

    Also, I have worked a couple of years doing phone support for an internet banking service, and through that I really got an idea of what it was like trying to use a poorly built site for persons with disabilities such as poor eyesight or lacking motor skills.

    And, as Roger sorta points out, when it’s possible most of the time to make a site accessible not by redoing it all over in or doing separate accessible sections or whatever, but just by knowing your craft, it’s your damn responsibility to do so to the fullest extent possible under your working conditions.

  6. I was first introduced to web-standards and accessibility in school actually. I went to Full Sail (Florida-US) and when I finished I subscribed to this, and a couple other RSS feeds related to web standards… I’ve been hooked ever since. It just makes sense.

  7. I think it was 50% via a norwegian web forum, and 50% of stumbling upon A List Apart.

  8. When it comes to the web, I’m still an idealist. I want it to be a great sea of information exchange for everyone on the planet, regardless of nationality/location/disabilities. This is something I have been preaching since I discovered the early web in 1994. The web has made communication, cooperation and daily life a lot easier for millions of people in just a decade of time. I’m not disabled in any way, but I see only benefits from using web standards. Since it is people who use the web, we should make it accessible to people.

  9. I started out in a regular webdesign firm, being responsible for both backend and frontend design. Took me about two years to fully realize the problems with this way of working.

    Circumstances made me move on and I ended up in a company specialized in web usability and accessibility. So unlike others, I never experienced the hardship of selling it, it’s just the main goal of our company.

    Apart from that, I like the purity of it. To do something good, clean and (as) proper (as possible).

  10. I came to usability after a macromedia session in Brighton in about 2002. They had Julie Howell from the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) there and she really got me interested in would could be done to assist people with visual impairments. From there I started to read a lot and try to influence others in my dev team to take note & use best practice.

    My wife is registered blind, she’s not “in the dark” but she does have very bad eyesight. It used to disappoint me when she couldn’t use a website because (for example) text was to small or the colours did not have enough contrast. Now it infuriates me.

  11. 1 part “Bulletproof Web Design” By Dan Cederholm

    1 part “getting it”, and thus wanting to know everything about the concept.

    1 part great websites like this one, to add fuel to the flame.

  12. I got into web standards a few years back simply by reading lots of blogs on the subject. It became clear to me at that point that the reasons why I had grown bored with the web were gone, and that creativity was back in a big way.

    What mattered to me most, however, was the idea that there was a right way to do things, and it is really the idea of trying to do things right that appeals to me, more than trying to be accessible; although, I admit being accessible is part of just doing things right.

    Somebody, and I regret I cannot remember who, said that:

    All websites are accessible by default, and then you add content.

    That says it all for me.

  13. All websites are accessible by default, and then you add content.

    Isn’t that the truth! I work for a university where accessibility is required, but I was interested before. It’s important to me that everyone be able to access my sites, not just “most” people. That seems to be the excuse that a lot of people use: “most people can use it…

  14. It was on a dark night about 4 years ago when I was visited by…

    No sorry not that kind of story but it was about 4 years ago when I first came across the concept of accessibility and the WAI. I was learning CSS based design and writing an application for a company that dealt mainly with people. I wanted to use best practice and cater for everyone, accessibility made sense for all users, especially disabled.

    Never really looked back now it makes sites so much nicer to use and you always get positive feedback when it has been implemented. It’s a real pleasure to work with disabled people and see that they can easily use an application.

  15. I got into accessibility for the same reason I’m still into it: it’s the right thing to do both technically and ethically. Having been developing websites since the days of Netscape 1.1, I was aware of WAI in the early days, and then - as now - accessibility just seemed a logical part of thought process of markup and design. As a web professional, accessibility is part of best practice and comes as standard.

  16. For me it was my writing background. The virtues of good writing apply without exception to good web design.

    My writing philosophy came from one particular teacher, who once handed back essays our class had written and said, “Cut 300 words without changing the point of your essay.” We did, we handed them back in, and we got them back the next day. “Cut another 300,” he said. By the end of the week, we each had stellar one-page essays, whittled down from five pages.

    Seems like accessible web design works the same way—designing with the bare minimum of distraction and confusion.

  17. I used to work for Iowa State University. I was given the task of making a site “Bobby AAA Compliant, whatever it takes…” I really had very little clue of what that entailed, though I was familiar with Bobby and Section 508.

    Through research on various blogs (beginning with and branching out from there) I discovered the WAI and WCAG, and Web Standards.

    I embraced them fully and never looked back.

  18. February 28, 2007 by Zephyr

    I got into it for the same reason I got into usability: to make using the web a less frustrating experience.

  19. Once upon a time a fay came to me and whispered, “care for all people, Johannes”.

    Granting information access to everyone is just beautiful, not “only” our professional obligation.

  20. March 1, 2007 by Scott

    I first got into accessibility because of WCAG. At that time, I thought anything put out by the W3C was the law. Over time I’ve come to understand the need for accessibility, and I think the main reason I’ve stuck with it is because I’m a perfectionist.

  21. Roger, with babyboomers hitting their later years and more and more people running into injuries like RSI or eyesight problems from staring at lit monitors etc - accessibility is a profoundly logical area to be interested in. How few of the world are commuicating in english for example, there are various levels of literacy and numeracy, motor and cognitive limitiations, poverty makes many of us have to use old or imperfect tools to access information and services.

    Logically by trying to address the issue of widening that scoop to include a greater number of people is the only way to go. What business doesn’t want more people in the door.

    I am interested in usability / accessibility / common sense because it means more bums on seats = customers. I’ve never understood how anyone could not think that way.

    I do have concerns about the direction of the conversation out there though - split camps and the newer WCAG stuff put forward which I really find hard to understand.

    In principle though I am wearing the white hat of right… :)

  22. Web accessibility was always the child of Web Standards – I read Zeldman’s book, found it hugely entertaining and just kept going.

    When I discovered that by making good code I was also going a long way to giving ease of access to other technologies, the Accessibility ethic just made sense. Now, having worked in commercial media for the last few years, I have found that when clients ask for it we can simply offer it as a matter of course – no biggie. It has become quite a virtuous circle and clearly the responsible thing to do for web users and myself professionally. I also love the concept of assigning paid work to good “Karma”!

  23. I’m just a firm believer in doing things right, and I think that building broken sites (when you know the difference) is contemptible.

    Accessibility just comes with the territory, I mean, why should someone with a disability have any less right to access the content that’s available to me? I’m no better than them.

  24. I stumbled upon CSS Zengarden a few years back when I was trying to get my head around some CSS while using Dreamweaver. I suddenly found that there was so much going on in the web industry and that I’d been left behind, along with other industry members in my local area.

    So I set out to learn as much as I could about standards and accessibility to get the edge over my competitors (who still after all this time have no idea about standards). but as it turns out it became more of a passion, as others have said it’s our job to care about and know this stuff.

    1. A world for everyone is just what I want.
    2. Open standards go real well with cost-efficiency.
    3. It’s fun to feel better than Google.
  25. Great insights! I too am a Mac user first (Windows second). I am constantly annoyed by site sections that just plain don’t support OSX browsers, or javascript menus that don’t work as intended. I am constantly using the text-enlarge function of my browser, even on reputable sites like A List Apart and ESPN.

    I recently conducted a research project that touched on accessibility and was surprised at how many people claimed to use assitive technology or accessibility features! I think it’s an important issue even for those who are are not ‘disabled’.

  26. It’s quite simple … Firstly I wanted to care but I also got to work closely with Andrew Kirkpatrick (Corporate Accessibility Engineering Lead) … and he opened my eyes … or one could say he beat me into submission …

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