The Web More Accessible, Really?

Obviously one web site does not an accessibility statement make but an experience I had this morning still to me sums up the real state of web accessibility in 2010.

 

I kicked off the day reading an article from SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site claiming the web was more accessible to people with disabilities. In my opinion this is both a poor article and a very misleading headline. There’s a world of difference between the utility offered by the web and the accessibility of that utility.

 

Articles like the one I’m talking about here always trot out people with disabilities and site how things like online shopping, recreation and the dozens of other things one can do on the web are such a boon to the population of people with disabilities. I won’t disagree with the benefits of an online world. I know firsthand that I do things online today that were at best tedious and in some circumstances all but impossible before introduction of various online offerings.

 

Still it is a mistake to equate this with real web accessibility. I think half the reason people with disabilities tolerate such a pathetic state of true accessibility is because the alternative to doing things online is that much more of a challenge.

 

Back to my experiences of today. I read an article from the Seattle Times talking about an interesting burger joint. I’m someone who enjoys a good burger from time to time so decided to check out the menu for the restaurant.

 

So I surfed on over to The Counter’s web site. I chose to view the online menu and selected the city of Seattle. I was perplexed when I still couldn’t find any meaningful menu and only alt text for a graphic that read, “Build Your Own Burger Menu”. It turns out the menu is just a graphical representation of the menu. There’s no real text to be read by a screen reader.

 

Again I recognize that one web site can hardly be used to measure the state of web accessibility at the debut of 2010. Still in my experience my experience with the burger joint is far more common than any improvements in web accessibility and in general I think the web is really not getting more accessible. How about you? What are your experiences?

3 thoughts on “The Web More Accessible, Really?”

  1. I’m not disabled I’m a person who encounters a plethora of disabling or marginalizing human designed environments. As long as we continue to marginalise these requirements & make the “special things for special people”; we will never see an accessible web. It certainly isn’t any more accessible than it was 5 yrs ago.

  2. I agree with your sentiments entirely. As an infromation accessibility specialist I am hot and strong on good meaningful alt text. As a VI person I struggle with colour contrast and although I enlarge text sometimes it is unreadable because of poor contrast. I am afraid to say that your grey text is really hard to read for me.

  3. I agree, Kelly — the web can make most things easier for most people with disabilities, but only if sites have the necessary accessibility features. I don’t think we have any way of knowing if today’s web is more accessible than yesterday’s — longitudinal studies are rare, and we’re not even sure what the right methodology is.
    Here’s one point from a recent study of Greek websites that seemed to show declining accessibility. They saw more effective alt text for static images (good news), but no alternatives to video, which is often replacing static images. So even though compliance looks somewhat better on paper, actual accessibility — the ability to find and use what you’re looking for — is worse. (Here’s where to buy a paper about this study: http://www.springerlink.com/content/l23x52751j3v1557/)
    Another effect we may be seeing is a “Potemkin village” — a small number of sites are much better or even exemplary (because they are somehow strongly motivated), while a much larger number are the same or worse.
    Until we have a handle on the overall ecosystem of web accessibility, we’re only guessing at whether we’re making progress from a real-life, functional point of view.

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