Accessibility: Who’s Responsible?

We recorded a show about web accessibility last night, and a topic that came up was Responsibility. I know how to implement accessible features, but I also know how much extra time ($) it takes to do a good job at it. Regardless of the budget, I do the basics. But beyond that?

Our guest mentioned that large e-commerce sites (including Target) have been sued over the accessibility of their sites for not small sums of money. Telling a client that their site isn’t very friendly for folks who can’t use mouses or use screen readers is one thing; telling them they may be sued for it suddenly makes it A Big Deal (sad that it isn’t a big deal anyway, but money talks).

We can blame our clients for ignoring the issue, but I think it really comes down to us. I imagine that most people think that folks with impairments simply use Jaws and their sites just work with it (assuming this is a topic they think about at all). Why wouldn’t it? Isn’t that why you pay $500+ for that piece of software? They have no idea that the developer has to go in and put aria-roles on everything and use proper semantic markup, and that the designer needs to use adequate amounts of contrast and colors that don’t cause confusion to the color blind and fonts that don’t leave dyslexics in despair.

Why would they know these things? Isn’t that our job? And isn’t our job to tell them that these things don’t just magically happen, that we have to spend time and they have to spend money on them?

Sure, some CMS’ have some of this stuff baked in, but emphasis on “some”. For instance, the actual WordPress admin is accessible, and the themes that come with it are, but beyond that there’s no guarantee. Some frameworks and systems dictate the markup for you, so if it doesn’t come accessible out the box, you have to either A) go find a plugin (which may or may not be plug-and-play) or B) make costly upgrades. In an ideal world, we would put this into our boilerplate build so we have a baseline of accessibility baked into every site we work on. I think we could all stand to spend some unbillable time doing this, if that’s the only option. But no matter what approach we take, we have to inform our clients why this matters, and what we have to do to make it happen.

When we first ended the show, we ended on a sigh. As in, my site is probably not terribly accessible, I guess I have to go to my room and fix it blah. But then our guest said F that, let’s end this on a high note. Making your site accessible means that more people get to enjoy your hard work. It means that someone who has had frustrations tabbing through shopping carts on other sites will happily sail through yours ($$$). It means rainbows and kittens and unicorns. Sure, it’s not a terribly sexy topic, but the next time you see a wheelchair-bound person unable to enter a store because of a single step up, just think about your website. Did you erect a staircase at the steps of your front door?