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Every so often, a popular answer to a question on this site receives a comment like "looks great, but how accessible is it?", or "try that out with a screen reader and see how much fun you have". These comments make me realize that I don't think about accessibility very much, if at all.

What is the appropriate response to questions of accessibility? It seems that sites and applications either worry about accessibility or not, and my assumption is that the sites that worry are a lot fewer in number. I often read things like "We are working on an accessible site for a client", but how did that client decide that accessibility was something they were going to spend money on in the first place?

Is it a legal compliance thing? Is it industry driven? It it purely related to your audience? My impression from reading about the topic is that accessibility is a often concern for federal or government sites, but why these sites in particular? Are they more likely than any other sites to receive traffic from the types of visitors who would benefit from accessible design?

Of course the answer to this overall question should be something like "All site owners should be concerned about accessibility all the time", but that's not how things are in reality and it's unlikely to become that way overnight.

How can a site owner or developer know when they really need to consider making their sites accessible?

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I think a lot of people are afraid of making things accessible because they don't know anything about it. To be honest, these days, it's really not that hard. With respect to vision and mobility impaired users, WAI-ARIA gives us a ton of tools that we didn't have 10 years ago that all modern browsers and screen readers support. You can make interactive elements MUCH more usable with a few simple attributes. Download NVDA (free screenreader) and see how your site does. If you spend a day with a screenreader and the ARIA docs you can make your site much more user friendly without much work.

Aprillion already mentioned many of the other considerations you should make, and really none of them take a ton of effort. I do want to point out though that vision issues extend beyond just color blindness. You also need to consider contrast. I'd encourage you to take a look at the guidelines over at WCAG. The federal ADA guidelines are pretty out of date. WCAG is a much better representation of what you need to do to make something usable for all users with more current browsers.

It takes a little effort to learn about it up front but if you're properly designing your pages with reusable controls you can make those controls usable for everyone with very little effort. So, my answer is - make everything accessible.

Of course the answer to this overall question should be something like "All site owners should be concerned about accessibility all the time", but that's not how things are in reality and it's unlikely to become that way overnight.

Personally, at this point I fight to make every page I build accessible. It seems awfully lazy and unprofessional to build something that only works properly for people with perfect vision, perfect mobility, and perfect hearing. If we aren't making a case for this, no one will. Many clients and businesses want to do whatever the "bare minimum" is for their site to be "successful". It's on us to make sure that we're pushing them to make sites that work for all users, even if it adds a few days worth of work to the budget.

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    Nice, comprehensive answer. It really just boils down to one thing: if you build your site properly, adhering to accepted Web standards then the site will be accessible anyway. If you're not making accessible sites currently then that means you're not building things properly, so you're not doing your job properly in the first place. – JonW Dec 4 '14 at 0:23
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accessibility is not a 1 thing.

  • design for color impaired vision is pretty straight forward, can be done universally and benefits everyone
  • if you rely too much on sound and voice overs, subtitles are your friend - not every office computer has loudspeakers even if people can hear without problems
  • layout should look good when you change font size in the browser, some people can't see small letters, but others prefer to fit as much on 1 screen as possible

If you are legally obliged to follow some particular accessibility guidelines, there you go, if not, it's a business decision as for any other feature - you need to think about pros and cons...

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Sometimes there are region specific acts that require certain accessibly standards to be met. For example, according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act as of January 1, 2014 in Ontario, Canada all websites must be WACG 2.0 Level A compliant. Additionally, by January 1, 2021, all websites must be Level AA compliant.

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