Accessibility is part of your job

To many people who make a living from designing or programming websites, accessibility is something unknown. Something frightening even, and something that is only ever taken into account (as a bolt-on after the site is finished) if a client specifically requires it.

I don’t understand that way of thinking. At all. Accessibility is one of the fundamentals of the Web, so how people who claim to be passionate about the Web and say that they deliver high quality can choose to ignore it is beyond me.

I’m with James Edwards, who ends his article Why Accessibility? Because It’s Our Job! with this:

If we call ourselves professionals, we owe it to our clients, their clients, and ourselves, to do our job properly. A chef must care about health, a builder must care about safety, and we must care about accessibility.

Now if only everybody working in the web industry could take their jobs seriously enough to realise that.

Posted on December 14, 2007 in Accessibility

Comments

  1. December 14, 2007 by Erik Töyrä

    If we call ourselves professionals, we owe it to our clients, their clients, and ourselves, to do our job properly. A chef must care about health, a builder must care about safety, and we must care about accessibility.

    This must be one of the best statements I have read in a long time. I second to that!

    Now… if we only could make the clients understand the difference between “true professionals” and “so called professionals”.

    Maybe there should be a Accessibility Professionals Guild? Just like in the good ol’ times when you had to learn your craft properly from a true master to earn your diploma. :D

  2. December 14, 2007 by Anders Ytterström

    Some sort of certification or dimploma in Accessibility would be nice.

    “I see you are not Accessibility certified..?” “Ehm, what?” “Next, please.”

  3. As it happens I’ve just been tearing my eyes out reading comments on some nerdy forum on how clients never order or even want to pay for “accessibility” or “validity”. They all want flash ‘cause it’s neat!

  4. December 14, 2007 by Dan Schulz

    M, (comment #3) that is why I also tell people that all-Flash sites will kill any real chances of them having their sites optimized for the search engines. That alone is usually enough to make them sit down, shut up and listen.

    Now as it is, while I do advertise accessibility, I tend to keep rather quiet about it by telling the client that the site will be accessible to search engines, mobile devices and other devices, which will not only help them make more money (higher targeted traffic from the search engines), but also reduce development costs by potentially eliminating the need for different versions of the same site for different devices.

    In other words, show your clients dollar signs, and they’ll be more likely to open up their bank accounts.

    (Roger, was it you or Mike Cherim who blogged about accessibility being a four-letter word not too long ago?)

  5. I think part of the reason why most developers don’t take accessibility into account is the scarcity of free tools for testing. I myself follow articles in this blog, ALA, and numerous other sites to learn best practices for dealing with these situations, but I don’t myself have access to a screen reader. Should I be shunned for that?* I don’t think I could justify the expense to my boss until we got a client that actually asked for an accessible Web site.

    *Though, I should be shunned for allowing my co-worker to keep designing our various company Web sites with table based layouts for positioning, but CSS for everything else…. I decided to pick my battles and got it so our Web builder outputs CSS positioned sites.

  6. @brian lepore, while not JAWS I believe both operating systems (mac for sure, not sure about pc) come with a screen reader. Granted they aren’t the industry standard but they do the job. There is always the option of opening a page in lynx and checking it out from that perspective.

  7. Not to be a troll, but the first word in the post should be “too” not “to”.

  8. If we call ourselves professionals, we owe it to our clients, their clients, and ourselves, to do our job properly. A chef must care about health, a builder must care about safety, and we must care about accessibility.

    Erik Töyrä is right. That’s one of the best statements I’ve heard about accessibility in a long while.

    Maybe there should be a Accessibility Professionals Guild? Just like in the good ol’ times when you had to learn your craft properly from a true master to earn your diploma.

    While the idea is good, that has the potential to be abused in so many ways. An elitist guild isn’t the end-all answer to accessibility. The problem is, clients just aren’t aware of the need for accessibility. One of the goals of the web development community should be (and is) to educate our clients so the won’t make bad decisions about their web sites.

  9. December 14, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Erik:

    Maybe there should be a Accessibility Professionals Guild?

    Not necessarily, but something like what PPK talks about in Founding a front-end professionals’ organisation would be good.

    Dan:

    Roger, was it you or Mike Cherim who blogged about accessibility being a four-letter word not too long ago?

    That was Mike: That Evil Accessibility Word.

    Brian:

    I think part of the reason why most developers don’t take accessibility into account is the scarcity of free tools for testing.

    Well, most developers don’t even use the validators or any of the free browser extensions that help with quality assurance.

    I myself follow articles in this blog, ALA, and numerous other sites to learn best practices for dealing with these situations, but I don’t myself have access to a screen reader. Should I be shunned for that?

    Screen readers are just one small segment of accessibility. Having access to one, or even better having a real screen reader user who can help with testing, is certainly good, but even if you don’t there is a lot you can do.

    There are demo versions available of JAWS and other screen readers, and Mac OS X ships with VoiceOver for free.

    So no, you shouldn’t be shunned for that. Do the best you can - at least you are making an effort.

    Jordan:

    Not to be a troll, but the first word in the post should be “too” not “to”.

    Actually, the way I mean it it should be “to”, as in “Accessibility is something unkown to may people”. :-)

  10. Jordan - Roger most certainly used the correct word.

  11. December 14, 2007 by Chris B

    I think something else that is important to mention also is the fact that designers must take ALL aspects of accessibility into account.

    I cringe when I see a site that is using best practices in accessibility, but then has light gray text on a white background or just something simple that they didn’t do.

    Attention to detail is very important.

  12. One of the goals of the web development community should be (and is) to educate our clients so the won’t make bad decisions about their web sites.

    Isn’t that like the car dealer saying their car is a bargain? “No need to look elsewhere Sir!”. Most small businesses here this anyway.

    You’ll find it hard to educate clients who don’t have to time or even desire to learn about it. They pay you, the service provider, to get the job done. Educating businesses is something I do and few want to know about it as they’re more inclined to spend what little time there is finding out how to get a better listing in Google.

    As for industry standards or accreditation, I foresee problems with who assumes the authority and how the standard seal of approval carries weight on the web outside of the design/development industry, which is where it’s needed. Look at the footer at Dabs. They have many badges of honour, most of which are designed to instil confidence based on the brands such as Visa and Mastercard, names we trust. Can anyone foresee a brand of trust with such clout within the web industry? It’s a tall order.

    Educating clients does create demand for higher quality service providers but it’s an uphill task. It has to be easier to target education authorities that roll out curriculum. My 7 year old boy is already learning BBCode on a school website and will soon be learning markup. I await the course to see the standards.

    Another point is here in my home town there is a multiversity (Uni with many partners) and the curriculum for web development doesn’t even include HTML, it’s Dreamweaver 8 Design. Time is of such a premium that accessibility, usability and CSS are labelled ‘advanced’ and not dealt with. How are the WASP Education TF getting on? When will search engines start factoring document quality alongside content quality as they are of far more concern to clients that technicalities?

    If people wish to educate clients then think ‘fear’ (the law) and ‘greed’ (search rank) as that will get the most attention.

  13. I am completely on board with this. I currently work for a large enough company that they HAVE to pay attention to the rulings against Target when we launch a new site, which makes it easy for me to make the case for making accessibility a priority.

    @Ed - I agree that fear and greed (two very very basic motivators) are very efficient methods, especially for something as abstract (at least for business owners) as accessibility. But at the same time, there will be situations where, with a little more effort, we can espouse accessibility for the positivity it brings.

    The web should be for everyone, I believe in open technologies and standards, and explaining to a client the positive effect including accessibility in our projects can have, can sometimes get them on board without having to call upon their lesser greatest common denominators.

    All I’m saying is that I do think it’s our job. Not only that, but it encourages a number of other positives, and everyone really benefits in the long run.

  14. I work at an optimization firm and I sometimes feel like picking up the phone and just ask the developer of the site what the hell he was thinking.

    When I hear how much some of our clients actually paid for their sites… It’s pretty much unbelievable…

  15. and explaining to a client the positive effect including accessibility in our projects can have, can sometimes get them on board without having to call upon their lesser greatest common denominators.

    Do we need them ‘on board’? Isn’t it par for the course? Should there even be the question ‘How much do you charge for an accessible website?’. If ‘accessibility costs more’ is the answer then it’s lack of education of the service provider that’s the problem, not the client. There’s a practical limit to how much information the client needs to know. Usually it’s administration, communication, sales and marketing that have priority here, not code. The client are ‘users’ of the website as is the target audience.

    @Roger: Isn’t this a rant to the converted? ;)

  16. December 14, 2007 by Theodor Zoulias

    Accessibility is part of my job if is part of my paid job. And paid job is the job that my client pays me to do. If my client is not willing to pay for that part of the job, then I may not be willing to do it for free.

    I may like the idea of a Web accessible to everyone, but my client may like better the idea of her web site reaching her target audience. In this case my client is right, I am wrong.

  17. @Theodor: Present the value of accessibility, it’s significance in terms of device compatibility and search engine optimization. Then integrate the additional time into your overall fees and I would be hard pressed to find clients that wouldn’t be willing to pay for those services. It’s all a matter of presenting how it also affects the bottom line and not presenting it as a luxury item or some sort of optional add-on.

  18. @Theodor: Accessibility isn’t bolt-on. It’s a case of doing things properly in the first place.

    I can recommend Dive Into Accessibility.

  19. Then integrate the additional time into your overall fees

    What load is there creating an accessible website over a non-accessible website if the site is hand coded? Granted if an editor is used then fair enough but does accessibility really cost more?

  20. That’s a great quote. Of course, one of the reasons a chef must care about health is because their are health regulations and his restaurant might be shut down. A builder must care about safety because their are safety regulations and his license may be revoked if he doesn’t comply. It would be a great help if accessibility was mandatory as well.

  21. December 15, 2007 by Theodor Zoulias

    Let’s give a counter example. Nobody’s health or safety would be in immediate risk if the site that hosts our comments was totally inaccessible for PDA or NN4 users. Forcing every site owner to make his personal property fully accessible to any living human being, is against my sense of proportionality between social profits and losses.

  22. I don’t consider the relatively small amount of time I spend making the sites I build more accessible to be an add-on or a special feature at all - it’s part of the package. In the same way that I always include basic keyword research and SEO elements in my sites, even if a client doesn’t opt for a pricey SEO plan, coding for accessibility is a given for me. I don’t charge extra for it and usually don’t even bring it up with a client as being a task at all; it’s a benefit for the client’s visitors that comes with hiring me, just like valid clean code and well-executed design. Accessibility isn’t optional.

  23. Too true Roger. Its about making a quality product (over just a pretty one or an adequate one) and is more about being educated about the underlying technologies and medium we work with than being about extra time, money or effort.

    Why accessibility is our job is also because we want more users accessing those shopping carts and information pages, why create something that only lets most people in to buy your goods?

    So I do have a very low opinion of ‘professional’ developers who aren’t concerned about that. I see my job as making an ‘efficient and effective’ web solution - this includes accessibility, usability, aesthetic marketing, meeting business goals and objectives etc. Not just making a website or application that looks great in one or two browsers to several people including the client.

    You’re probably preaching to the converted here but it needs to be said and published over and over and over.

  24. I always take the easy road, which means building accessible from scratch without mentioning it. It is an integrated part of my job, and I would become frustrated if I couldn’t do a proper job.

    Now and then this means having to find a better tool for parts of a job, or argue with visual designers when I have to alter their designs. In most cases an accessible approach saves money and time and just works, and nobody asks any questions.

  25. Very to-the-point and very nicely put, Roger.

    Accessible sites are the only type I make - it is the product I make. If the client asks if he or she can save money but not worrying about all that stuff, if they want a lower quality budget site, the answer is a simple no, that model is no longer in production. They were phased out at the turn of the century. The authorities, I will add, are trying to rid the internet of them as we speak.

    All developers should feel obligated to make the best possible sites they can, and they should include integral accessibility. Not a tacky, ineffective add-on, and not an option.

  26. December 17, 2007 by Stevie D

    @Theodor Zoulias:

    Accessibility is part of my job if is part of my paid job. And paid job is the job that my client pays me to do. If my client is not willing to pay for that part of the job, then I may not be willing to do it for free. I may like the idea of a Web accessible to everyone, but my client may like better the idea of her web site reaching her target audience. In this case my client is right, I am wrong.

    Don’t bill it as “website + accessibility”, or “website vs accessible website”. Making the website basically accessible is just as much part of the core job as any other. You wouldn’t itemise separately for running it through a spell-checker, or for the time taken to upload it, or anything else that’s essential (would you?) - it’s just part of the overall cost. Basic accessibility should be exactly the same.

  27. To me this is a no-brainer at all. After all accessibility is the core around which web sites are built. Since the day I joined the company I work for, I have been pushing this way of thinking to everyone around me and I must say we all work better and more passionately now.

  28. If you learn industry standards and best practice, building accessible websites just comes naturally and is faster than using crappy standards. After a while you’ll just build a site and at the end it will just be accessible. It doesn’t need to be in a separate row on the invoice to the client, it’s just a state that continually develops as you build the site.

    PS. I love my love :)

  29. I totally agree that accessibility should be part of a web developer’s job, but I respect the viewpoint that some clients may not have a legal requirement and may choose not to make it a priority or to ignore it altogether.

    I think it would be helpful for there to be a site directed at clients, to very succinctly give some information on topics like this where they may have to make a decision about something they don’t know about. Pleasant side results would include helping newbie web devs learn about and prepare for those decisions, and helping clients learn enough to gauge the quality of potential web developers.

  30. I totally agree with the above but the client is most often the problem and do not want to pay for this options even its most implemented in the very start of developing a website.

    Popus are wanted and i find it project managers responsability to inform and educate the cleints to understansd what is correct and what is wrong for best possible publication…

    THats where i lose some time in order to make better publications and follow standards…

  31. I don’t understand that way of thinking. At all. Accessibility is one of the fundamentals of the Web, so how people who claim to be passionate about the Web and say that they deliver high quality can choose to ignore it is beyond me.

    It really doesn’t surprise me, as there still are companies that, by contract, explicitly state they only develop for Internet Explorer. And these are mostly .NET companies, sadly.

  32. Usability over ruled!! I have some serious “I dont care” co-workers at the office and i feel that My opinion never makes sence in the way usability and accessibility, proper xhtml css is used and the way the programmer ignore the standard im trying to implement for best possible usability and appearance.

    IM alone front-end developer and im trying to educate my project manager staff as well as the programmer but I see that my ideas or actually, the web standards are not valuable enough to care for in order to get paid!! It is a pity that I cant to my job fully and that money have to decide if I should optimize and deliver the website in a non standard optimize quality!!!

    What would you do!!

    I have 10 years of experience in html and have been addicted to xhtml, css and usability and accessibility the last 2 years of my career…

  33. After re-reading the sentence I realize I am absolutely wrong. My apologies.

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