Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hell hath no fury like Joe Clarke

I have to admit that I haven't read version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2) yet but after reading 'To Hell with WCAG 2' by Joe Clarke it's going to be difficult to have a very open mind and not to read it from a highly critical point of view.

Mr Clarke goes on quite a rant and it made me think that maybe someone on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) commmittee, the team who are responsible for WCAG 2, must have said his suit was too shiny or called his cat fat or something.

Don't get me wrong though. I think these official standards are sometimes too easily accepted as gospel and that they can encourage us to stop thinking about what's right for a particular project.

So I'm all for Joe and his fury. It's just a shame that, if he's right about WCAG 2, so much time has been wasted on developing a set of unusable guidelines.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Wake up to accessibility

Public sector organisations are way ahead of commercial businesses with regards to awareness of accessibility issues relating to websites.

Last week I went to a web accessibility event organized by MLA London (Museums, Libraries and Archives) aimed at anyone involved in commisioning websites.

As well as getting some really valuable insights into the services that web devlopment companies must be capable of providing to organisations in this sector, I was impressed by the speakers that were involved, the number of delegates that came along and how well up on accessibility issues the delegates already were.

I doubt that there would be the same level of interest in such an event from companies in the commercial secto even if, like this one, it was free.

I suppose you could argue that public sector organisations are bound to be more 'interested' in web accessibility issues because their funding often depends on meeting stingent accessibility criteria.

But most delegates came away with the understanding that the benefits of having an accessible website go way beyond the funding that was obtained to develop it.

It's not just about adding ALT tags to images. The whole approach to the design and development of a website must come from an accessibility standpoint rather than tacking on accessibility options at the end.

Of course this means the site must be technically accessible (i.e. according to accepted accessibility guidelines), but it's also got to have accessible content (e.g. copy must be written in a way that the audience can easily digest) and be really easy to use (e.g. navigation mechanisms should be clear and consistent).

If website developers adopt this sort of 'accessibility-centric' approach, the results will be more visitors to your site, more satisfied customers and a higher chance of repeat visits.

In the public sector, this might translate into better funding. In the commercial sector, it translates into higher revenue. In both cases, it means a return on investment that justifies the accessible approach to your website.