Design Accessible Web Sites (Book review)

It’s good to see more books on Web accessibility being published. More books means different authors and different writing approaches, and a greater chance of there being a book available that suits different people.

I mention this because to some people, words such as standards, regulations, or compliance are huge turn-offs that make them effectively stop listening. Maybe Design Accessible Web Sites will sit better with that crowd, since the author, Jeremy Sydik, presents the information in a gentler way, without getting overly hung up on checkpoints and accessibility guidelines.

I think it’s a very good approach. There isn’t much sense in slavishly following recommendations just to tick checkboxes without knowing what the benefit is. And I’ve been seeing quite a bit of that lately…

It seems that often when a client requires their website to be accessible, the task of making sure it is accessible is handed over to a back-end developer who also happens to be the only one on the project who has any sort of knowledge of front-end development. But that developer is very rarely aware of what makes a website accessible, so they turn to checking points off the WCAG checklists and checking checkboxes in whichever IDE they are using. And that often leads to badly implemented accessibility, like the issues I mentioned a while ago in Overdoing accessibility.

Apologies for the long introduction, but it’s there since I think Design Accessible Web Sites could actually work for the developers I am thinking of. There is not a lot of pedantery and preaching and “you must follow these guidelines exactly, or else”. Instead, the author focuses on the end result – if doing this or that actually makes the site more accessible. And in the end that is a lot more important than ticking boxes in a checklist.

The book consists of five parts and goes through everything from best practices to testing to taking a look at the legal situation that surrounds Web accessibility. It’s written in a very easy-to-read and friendly manner that makes it a pleasure to read. The advice it contains is correct and up-to-date, and focuses on how the end user is affected instead of following outdated guidelines to the letter.

Speaking of guidelines, the book teaches how to design accessible sites by following ten principles instead of various guidelines. I won’t quote the entire list of principles, but a couple of my favourites are these:

Users’ time and technology belong to them, not to us. You should never take control of either without a really good reason.

Progressively enhance your basic content by adding extra features. Allow it to degrade gracefully for users who can’t or don’t want to use them.

Design Accessible Web Sites is an excellent read that I highly recommend.

Design Accessible Web Sites
Author: Jeremy Sydik
ISBN-10: 1934356026
ISBN-13: 978-1934356029

Posted on February 19, 2008 in Accessibility, Reviews

Comments

  1. Roger, I’ve looked at this books a few times, and thought about picking it up. I’m fairly well versed in accessibility guidelines, but not an expert, and I work for a government org that is fully committed to accessibility. Is this the book for me? You mention that it is “gentler.” Do you mean in prose or in content? I’m basically looking for something like “CSS Mastery” for accessibility; a book filled with real-world advice and common work-arounds.

  2. There is a podcast with Jeremy Sydik available at http://pragprog.com/podcasts

    \David

  3. It seems that often when a client requires their website to be accessible, the task of making sure it is accessible is handed over to a back-end developer who also happens to be the only one on the project who has any sort of knowledge of front-end development.

    It seems like that happens across the board. Where I work, a great deal of poorly-composed markup, awkward use of CSS, javascript: links, and so on, seems to come from the “back-end” guys. Not only are they undereducated about front-end practices, they’re genuinely too busy to take the time to learn about it.

    That would be fine if the organization was willing to delegate according to specialization. But I think there’s a perception that because HTML is not “real” programming, somebody who can build Java objects that interact with Oracle tables should have no problem slinging out some markup to go with it.

  4. February 20, 2008 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Eddie: Sounds like the book is for you. I think the book is useful for anyone who wants to build accessible websites, even those of us who have worked in that field for some time.

    When I say that it is gentler I mean that it doesn’t get overly hung up on technicalities or minor details of checklists, specifications or legalities, and instead focuses on the actual end result.

    David: Thanks for that link, I’m listening to the podcast right now.

    Cris:

    But I think there’s a perception that because HTML is not “real” programming, somebody who can build Java objects that interact with Oracle tables should have no problem slinging out some markup to go with it.

    Yup, that mindset is very common unfortunately.

  5. Eddie: It looks like Roger has already answered this one, but sure, the book is meant for a wide variety of developers. I only require that the reader knows the basics of HTML and CSS (though I give solid references on those topics for the uninitiated). The big thing I do is let go of hard standards checklists in favor of a results based, end user focused approach.

    The podcast David mentions describes more about this approach, but to hear about it from another reader’s words, check out NosillaCast # 135 http://www.podfeet.com/wordpress/2008/02/16/135-design-accessible-web-sites/

  6. Roger + Jeremy: Just what I wanted to hear. I’ll pick it up sometime this week. Thanks!

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