Accessibility for all vs. for people with disabilities

One debate that comes up over and over again, just like the HTML vs. XHTML debate, is the "accessibility is for everyone" vs. "accessibility is for people with disabilities" debate. I have taken part in one or two such debates myself, but it always feels a bit strange to argue against people who are essentially fighting for the same thing I am – trying to make the Web easier to access and use for everybody.

Gez Lemon and Mike Cherim are in different camps in this debate and have co-written an article for in an attempt to end the pointless fighting. In the article, titled The Great Accessibility Camp-Out (comments can be posted on Mike's blog in Re: The Great Accessibility Camp-Out), Gez and Mike explain how most people in their respective camps view Web accessibility. The idea is not to try to change anyone's mind, but to make each camp understand and respect the other camp's opinion.

It's a good initiative as this occasional arguing (which can get quite heated) only drains energy and scares off talented and dedicated people. And it honestly turns me off as well.

As for which camp I am in, I think most regular readers will correctly put me in the "accessibility is for everyone" camp (Camp 1 in the article). Fighting for a Web where people can access information without being forced to use a mouse to operate Internet Explorer on a desktop PC running a Windows operating system with broadband Internet access is what got me interested in accessibility to begin with.

I do recognise that the W3C's definition of Web accessibility is "to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities". So yes, you could say that I and anybody else who try their hardest to make the Web usable for all should not be allowed to use the phrase "Web accessibility".

However, strictly following the W3C's definition of what Web accessibility is would make it harder for me to make people (clients, other Web developers and designers) understand how accessibility benefits everyone.

Every now and then I hold workshops on Web standards and accessibility for Web developers, and as soon as I mention the word "disability", people tend to start inspecting their finger nails very carefully or look uncomfortable. I find that talking about accessibility for everyone, disabled or not, makes people relax a little and start listening.

I also fail to see how advocating that websites are built to be accessible for all people could possibly hurt anyone. To me "everybody" includes people with disabilities.

In the end, the result is the same. So let's stop this pointless arguing and help each other make the Web a better place.

Posted on October 4, 2006 in Quicklinks, Accessibility