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October 09, 2007

Accessibility is about people, not compliance

As developers, designers, architects, anyone really who designs and builds things that people rely on to get on with their lives, often think about accessibility is very theoretical terms. In the case of the built environment, it's about complying with building codes. On the web it's about meeting WCAG level A or double A or so one. But it's really about people. And as tough as we might think complying with these criteria is, think about how tough not complying makes other people's lives. This is a moving an powerful story from a woman who found herself confined to a wheel chair after an aircraft accident last year.
I first became aware of this harsh truth when I made a trip to a Perth department store with Michael and my father to buy a birthday present for a friend. I left feeling utterly dejected, in no doubt about my new reality. The store's aisles in the book section, for example,were so narrow there was no way I could manoeuvre the wheelchair around them. In the food department, the counters were so high I could not see over them to the sales staff, and I found myself at eye level with young children holding onto their mothers' skirts. Here I was, an independent 34-year-old woman whose entire adult life thus far had involved many hours in shops buying clothes, make-up, browsing for books and CDs, and now I felt completely shut out of consumer society.
I think keeping in mind stories like these when we address our tasks as developers and designers makes us much better at what we do.

October 9, 2007 | Permalink


Here here.

Posted by: Kat | Oct 9, 2007 12:36:39 PM

Hear hear, I meant to say. Sorry.

Posted by: Kat | Oct 9, 2007 12:37:04 PM

Of course it requires a *journalist* in a wheelchair for an article like this to get some air time. Or maybe I'm just not noticing coverage.

Posted by: Ben Buchanan | Oct 9, 2007 3:26:23 PM

regardless ben, I think it is good to see these human stories yeah?


Posted by: john | Oct 9, 2007 8:55:02 PM

For sure, any good coverage is a bonus to get the issues out there.

Posted by: Ben Buchanan | Oct 10, 2007 12:01:05 PM

exactly John, and rather than seeing it as an obstacle to have to design a little smarter it should be viewed as a professional challenge to be able to build something which people can use...

and what is even more helpless than someone who is just invisible in their own home trying to access something on a website?

I recently had an old mentally ill friend over to show her how to use the Internet - 10 years or more of medication for manic depression and she couldn't double click and had immense trouble even using a mouse. So even a fractionally unusable site (for example tiny fly out menus with small target areas) would totally preclude her from even basic access. Yet, when you think about it, the developers of such a site wouldn't even notice she existed YET somehow say its fine and nobody would have issues with their work.

Posted by: Steven Clark | Oct 12, 2007 7:09:33 PM