Thoughts on Accessibility

Oct 27, 2006

October is "People with Disabilities" awareness month at IBM, and I attended a panel discussion on the topic today, which was quite insightful. One of my coworkers, who has cerebral palsy and speaks with an augmented communications device, was one of the panelists. I learned a number of interesting things about the opportunities IBM offers employees with disabilities, along with a number of other interesting things.

All of this got me thinking about the lawsuit facing Target, which I commented on quite a while back. A recent update to the story indicates that the trial is still moving forward. Target recently argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act only covered physical store space, not electronic store fronts. But a California judge ruled last month that this was not the case, and has allowed the case to proceed. This fact brings up an interesting point: if the law were to apply to physical locations only, how would businesses like, who have no physical locations, be allowed to operate?

It only makes sense (even business sense) that the ADA applies to electronic store fronts. If it didn't, think of the number of customers that would be turned away. According to the Wikipedia entry on blindness (so take this figure with a grain of salt), the World Health Organization estimated that 161 million people in the world were visually impaired, with 37 million of those being blind. Would you, as a business owner, turn away 37 million prospective customers? I know I certainly wouldn't.

I can only hope that the National Federation of the Blind wins this important court case. Regardless, it will hopefully wake up online retailers to the fact that web accessibility is important. Not only for blind users, but for search engine robots; all of which are blind. When the biggest internet user (the Google bot) is blind, I might begin to be concerned about the accessibility of my site.



12:19 PM on Oct 27, 2006
What's gets me is that it's so easy to make a site that is at least minimally accessible. I mean just adding alt tags to your images is probably enough to avoid a lawsuit.


5:07 PM on Oct 27, 2006
I completely agree. Web accessibility is incredibly easy to add from the get-go. One additional tactic that I like to use (and which I still need to implement on this very site) is a "skip navigation" or "skip to content" link, that allows screen reader users to skip to the most important part of each page. The provides a simple fix for having to listen to the same links time and time again (which would get quite annoying).

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