Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Web Accessibility

Tonight, I went to the lecture regarding Web Accessibility for blind persons presented by Anne Taylor, director of access technology, Wesley Majerus, access tech specialist, and another gentleman whose name I didn't catch. These individuals were representatives from the National Federation of the Blind.

It was an interesting talk, and here are a few key points in no particular order:
  • To make an accessible web site, you need to understand how screen readers works (which I don't, and still don't quite get after this talk), and you need to do user ability testing with blind persons.
  • Blind persons have to invest a lot of money (a minimum of $2,500) in screen readers (even more money if they're deaf and blind), so they expect web sites to function accordingly to meet their needs (quite understandable.)
  • They don't believe in text-only pages on the basis that separate is not equal. Reasons against separate text-only sites: they're not maintained as well, they tend to be boring and plain, and it's not a cost effective solution for a company to run two sites.
  • Apparently, Flash sites and PDFs can be made accessible if they're labeled appropriately. (Unfortunately, she didn't get into how to do that--maybe it's a given?)
  • In the next 20 years, the market demand for accessible websites is going to increase rapidly--all those baby boomers who know how to use computers will want to continue to use them in their declining eyesight, old age.
  • Other reasons why you should go out of your way to improve accessibility: by improving accessibility you will automatically improve usability, it differentiates your company as one with particular values, and to avoid legal litigation (the NFB just settled with for $4 million, an amount she said could have been avoided with about $50k worth of accessibility redevelopment to the site!)
I wish she had gone into more detail as to what needs to be precisely done in the coding and what not. Rather than being a tech informational lecture, it was more of an tech advocacy lecture, which is fine, just not what I was expecting. Although, she said much information could be found at their website: The National Federation of the Blind. They also do website certification that is somewhere above federal 508 compliance, which is the sort of thing I'd want to see as a norm.

Choosing to attend this lecture, I missed out on the Bringhurst/language talk at UMBC. If anyone went to that, please post about it or let me know how it went. Thanks.


Thursday said...

Sounds like it was a good talk. I really wish I could have attended, so thanks for posting this.

Sam said...

Sounds like an interesting lecture! Accessibility is always tough to achieve, but it's definitely the right thing to do. I haven't really read through these articles that well, but A List Apart usually has great stuff. Check it out!