74

Personally, the answer is "It's the right thing to do."

I'm a web developer for a fairly major news-media site. We are U.S-based but have a global audience. When I initially floated this idea, my boss said, "I don't think it's worth the time for a tiny segment of the population."

The decision is certainly not set in stone and will be discussed at a later time. I'd like to go in prepared with as many facts, statistics and arguments as I can to make this happen. For what it's worth, I've only done a very cursory look at how accessible or not our site is so far, as well as what's entailed to make it so. My initial proposal was just to include alt-text on our images, and that was shot down. While I'm volunteering to be the one to do the coding to make that happen, our writers would be the ones providing the alt-text.

For what it's worth, we support IE8. It's always been a personal bone of contention that we support people who choose to be behind and ignore those that are forced to by circumstance. Statistics comparing the two would be great, but I've had trouble finding them.

  • 8
    I'm really happy you take the time to do this. Oddly enough the developers I've been around don't go to such lengths to make sure that this sort of stuff is a good idea or not, more so "not my problem." – Majo0od Jul 17 '15 at 16:27
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    What about "because we'll get sued"? Can you get sued? Would you get sued? – Superbest Jul 17 '15 at 19:29
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    Ask your boss if he's ever walked up a wheelchair ramp. Implementing features for accessibility makes everyone's experience better, not just a small segment of the population. – zzzzBov Jul 17 '15 at 21:20
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    Companies offering products or services to the public in the U.S. are required by law (the Americans with Disabilities Act) to make their sites accessible. I wonder if the DOJ may look at "fairly major news-media" sites next... – T.J. Crowder Jul 19 '15 at 11:38
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    "we support IE8" So you do support a handicapped browser, but not handicapped people... – Jonathan Jul 20 '15 at 8:50
51

Well for your example of alt text just show him that there are many more benefits than accessibility. http://www.learnwebdevelopment.com/2011/01/advantages-to-adding-alt-tags-to-images/

  • Increases Traffic
  • Higher SEO Rankings
  • Safety Rules

All of the reasons shown in this link (first link I found on google) are advantages that will increase traffic, in turn increasing profit. I'm sure that is something any manager can get behind.

As for supporting IE8 and not users with disabilities here are some base statistics (a little outdated and may want to find more reliable sources, but its a start): This link shows that only 5.8% of users use IE8: http://www.sitepoint.com/browser-trends-january-2015-ie8-usage-triples/

While many more have some form of disability: http://john.foliot.ca/user-statistics-people-with-disabilities/

A study by Microsoft in 2003 showed that among adult computer users in the United States:

  • 1 in 4 has a vision difficulty
  • 1 in 4 has a dexterity difficulty
  • 1 in 5 has a hearing difficulty
  • 2
    So, the consensus among our developers (and I'm sad to say that I think they're right) is that the SEO argument is outdated, and for a site that's mostly text anyway the advantage of the alt-text there would be marginal. – thumbtackthief Jul 17 '15 at 16:29
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    As far as I understand the alt text may have minimal impact on the page itself but will greatly impact the change of a search engine returning the image itself in the results. If no alt tag is provided it is invisible to the crawlers and therefore wont have a chance to end up in google image search. Even if the change is not worth refactoring the whole site I can't see a reason they wouldn't let you add alts to all future images. Google link with some alt info: support.google.com/webmasters/answer/114016 – DasBeasto Jul 17 '15 at 17:01
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    I wonder if Google deliberately penalizes non-accessible websites (similar to the way they penalize non-HTTPS websites and non-mobile-friendly websites) – immibis Jul 18 '15 at 0:16
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    @TRNCFRMCN So what you're saying is, they give a bonus to every site except the ones I listed. Which is equivalent to penalizing only those sites. – immibis Jul 18 '15 at 10:18
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    It should be noted that the "5.8% of users use IE8" statistic is a global average and may or may not be accurate for your specific, individual site. Ideally, you should have internal metrics on this sort of thing which would provide you with a much more accurate measurement of what percentage of your users use that browser. – Ajedi32 Jul 20 '15 at 13:39
17

Accessibility is the default position

Creating something that helps as many people as possible is a primary goal of a UX designer. How can you improve someone's life with something they can't even access in the first place?

You shouldn't have to argue the position of why your content should be accessible because it is up to others to defend the non-accessible position. Find out if your boss truly believes that your content should not be accessible by everyone because that's probably not the real issue.

❝ You don't have to make a case for open. You have to make a case for not open. ❞

    ❖  Johnathan Nightingale (VP Firefox)


If a handicapped user can access your content then everyone can

The inverse of this statement isn't always true so by focusing on accessibility first you will be able to reach more people and improve more lives which again is the primary goal of UX. Designing something that is usable for someone with certain limitations can improve the overall usability of your website for everyone.

This is similar to the mobile first approach where designing something that works well on a mobile device will often force you to make hard decisions on what content is important enough to keep. If your content is clear and performs well on a mobile device then it will almost certainly perform better on a laptop or desktop computer.

I'm glad your passion is to make the world better for everyone and hope others will follow your lead.

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    "Accessibility is the default position" -- this appears to be a false statement. They already have a website. Therefore what they already have is the default position. It is not accessible. Arguing what they should have done back when they started from scratch is a different situation from arguing what they should do next given the pile of crap they have and the resources available to fix it. Even if the boss agrees the site "should" be accessible-first, that won't necessarily translate into assigning the resources necessary to re-work it. – Steve Jessop Jul 18 '15 at 12:46
  • @SteveJessop - That was a global statement and not specific to this one inaccessible website. In general, you don't have to make a case for accessible you have to make a case for not accessible. – DaveAlger Jul 19 '15 at 11:34
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    @DaveAlger: The thing is, "not accessible" is really, really easy to make a case for: it starts with "it costs less", and follows up with something about focusing efforts on things that will have a wider impact. This case may not hold up to deeper investigation, but that's irrelevant if you can't convince someone it warrants deeper investigation. – user56945 Jul 19 '15 at 20:46
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    Higher cost / limited resources are certainly valid reasons for not adding accessibility changes so the response should address that directly with things like "I'll work longer hours for free" or "I'll find an intern and teach them how to make the needed changes". Saying "Here is why accessibility is good" doesn't need to be said because it doesn't address the case being made for not accessible. – DaveAlger Jul 20 '15 at 2:41
  • @DaveAlger, if I understand your Nightingale quote, the reason to make it accessible is "Default."? The universally applicable reason not to make it accessible is "It requires more time/money/maintenance effort". If those are the exact arguments being made in a board meeting, I'm not putting money on accessibility. Saying "it is the default" means very little in that discussion. – Paul Draper Jul 20 '15 at 20:10
12

I just want to say that as a hard of hearing person, I am always confronted with situations where I am left out - I couldn't hear groups of people in the hallway in high school, I struggle to hear my family at Christmas dinner, and I've had university profs refuse to wear a microphone that would help me hear them. I find that I go through periods of accepting the problem and trying to find workarounds, but sometimes the frustration accumulates and I end up breaking down in tears over one incident. I wish I could show you how happy I am when I come across a website video with good closed captioning.

You could also made a case that good closed captioning helps a variety of people - people who speak English as a second language, public library users (who may have the sound of their computer turned off), and elderly people. Thanks for caring.

  • I got a job at a big firm 4 weeks before they rolled out a software upgrade for their call centre. I went to observe the rollout, to see what their early experiences were like. One of the staff had been faking it for years. He would stay late and from 2 cm away to memorize the location of each drop-down submenu on the screen. During the day, he would sit back and click where he had memorized. The new product looked sexy, but was low contrast, so this guy could no longer memorize things, Because he couldn't see it, he couldn't work. The Windows high-contrast display option crashed the software. – JeromeR Jul 21 '15 at 7:21
11

Because you're legally required to

Since you're in the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to you. Your company is likely in breech of the law if it does not make the website accessible and there is are moves afoot to press enforcement of this issue.

I also agree with the other answers but simple legal requirements are often the easiest arguments to carry to your boss.

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    There is already enforcement moves already accessiq.org/news/w3c-column/2012/09/… – mikek3332002 Jul 20 '15 at 6:01
  • Could you summarize what exactly a website is required to have in order to comply? – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 20 '15 at 10:31
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    The Act seems really unnecessary. It would be nice if the site is accessible, but it shouldn't be required by law. Buildings do not have to be made accessible, why should websites be different? Fortunately though, the law doesn't really apply for websites since "court decisions have been inconsistent" and a lot of details still haven't been worked out. – Derek 朕會功夫 Jul 21 '15 at 0:37
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    @Derek朕會功夫: Well, I'm UK based so I don't know the US laws precisely but here buildings have to be made accessible where that is possible. With a website it is always possible for it to be made accessible so I can't see any reason a business should be allowed not to make such accommodation. – Jack Aidley Jul 21 '15 at 8:04
11

Let's first start by taking a baseline: IE8. According to the stats from statcounter 4.12% still use IE8. This might be different from your target demographic, but at least it gives us a number to compare to.

Next there are two types of handicaps that will cause problems interacting with typical webpages: vision and dexterity. Now, unlike what the current top ranking answer seems to be implying most vision difficulties and dexterity difficulties will not cause major issues with using normal sites. It's only once the disability becomes relatively major that changing your site becomes helpful.

Vision

So, as you're US based I will take that as the target demographic, as the results would be skewed quite strongly by people in third world countries without internet access. Additionally it's really nice that the NFB (National Federation of the Blind) the U.S. defines blindness "if their sight is bad enough—even with corrective lenses—that they must use alternative methods to engage in any activity that persons with normal vision would do using their eyes." which is exactly what we are concerned with. According to their stats page there are in total 7 million people with such a visual disability and this boils down to 2.27% in the U.S.

Dexterity

Finding good statistics is extremely hard, but on the upside changing sites to function for such people is far simpler. A lot of tools that are build for such people rely on a very simple principal: Can you navigate your site purely with the keyboard? And I am not talking about complex keyboard shortcut, but simply using tab, enter and text input whenever relevant. Honestly, if you designed your site properly it should already work, and otherwise it should only take a couple of hours to fix. (Please do understand that those people are not necessarily literally using the tab key (though often they might). It's just that if you can navigate your site like that it will also work with whatever tools those people do use.)

Hearing

Most sites won't be concerned with people who have hearing disability. If you however heavily rely on video content this might be a different story. Either way, similarly to vision disabilities you're only concerned with cases where the hearing loss is bad enough that it requires alternative solutions. The best source I could find for such a statistics is as follows:

About 2 percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5 percent for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.

Now, first of all do understand that using a hearing aid they still might be able to consume your site like normal, so when you combine the knowledge of your demographic with the stats above (and assume that it's far less than 2% under 45) it will give you a statistic of the upper bound with the number of people you're concerned with.

Conclusion

So all considered the number of people who use IE8 might actually be greater than the number of people who would benefit from having a more accessible site. Especially when one assumes that your site is already keyboard friendly (like most sites) and doesn't contain a lot of video content (like most sites). The real problem however is that just adding alt attributes might not make as much of a difference as you hope. I mean, it's definitely a good thing and depending on the screen reader a blind person is using it might make a pretty big difference, but to really make the experience work for a truly blind person takes a lot more work than that (though seriously visually impaired who are not totally blind and use visual screen readers might actually benefit quite a bit from alt attributes). Personally I would be more inclined to warn IE8 users that the site might malfunction/look bad if they don't upgrade and spent some time on a very basic text and link only version for blind users of course including the logical ARIA markup (in my limited experience that's faster than making an existing website actually work well for blind people as changing the order of existing DOM structures and similar stuff is pretty hard).

PS. Do also note that nowadays screen readers have gotten a lot better, the only stat I have been looking for for months is not years is how many blind people use the super good screen readers and how many are still stuck with the bad screen readers from the past.

  • Interesting that there's a factor of 10 difference between the value you get from NFB (this definition, population as a whole, 2.27%) and Microsoft's value quoted in DasBeasto's answer (possibly a different definition, adult computer users, 25%). This means any business case is going to be very sensitive to the applicability of different people's numbers... – Steve Jessop Jul 18 '15 at 12:55
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    Also observe that anyone using a mobile device "has a dexterity disability". At least, that's the opinion of Google, since it announced that it penalises pages in mobile search if they have links close together :-) – Steve Jessop Jul 18 '15 at 12:56
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    @SteveJessop That's what I was trying to explain: Having vision difficulty is quite common, everyone with glasses has a vision difficulty. However vision difficulty where alternative tools are needed to browse websites is an faar smaller part of the population. Additionally Google is penalizing that are not optimized for mobile usage, which is definitely not the same as sites that have links close together. – David Mulder Jul 18 '15 at 12:59
  • Sure, "links close together" is just one example of a metric that Google penalizes on mobile, there are plenty of others. But some of them aren't dexterity-related so I picked one that quite clearly is about the unavailability of an accurate pointer. I agree with you, though: optimizing for mobile will deal with many if not all dexterity issues. At least, providing you don't hide all your good work in mobile-only conditionals of one form or another, which I fear that an organization not properly sold on accessibility as a goal, would be prone to do. – Steve Jessop Jul 18 '15 at 13:01
  • @SteveJessop Do you have any sources for links-close-together being something Google would look at? Because as far as I know their ranking is mostly a combination of the mobile pagespeed ranking and the presence of mobile specific styling and that's about it. Lots of menus and mobile apps have links right next to eachother in menus and stuff. – David Mulder Jul 18 '15 at 16:05
6

For stubborn business folks, I like to use an analogy of a brick and mortar store.

Why should you pay for a wheel chair ramp?

  • don't people with wheel chairs also have money and want to spend it in your shop?
  • what about the mom pushing a stroller? This would probably make it easier to get into your shop to spend her money.
  • that UPS guy...you're always mad that it takes him so long to get the packages unloaded. A ramp sure would help, eh?
  • The senior citizens in the area aren't big fans of those steps either. I bet a ramp would make them happier to come in to your store and buy something.

Bottom line, 'handicap accessible' really isn't the issue. It's about making something easier to use for more people.

And yes, it's the right thing to do--especially from a monetary standpoint. Making it easier for people to consume your product is usually a win-win situation.

  • 3
    "it's the right thing to do--especially from a monetary standpoint" - Not always true, by a longshot. Adding handicap ramps might be incredibly cost prohibitive and yield no extra revenue. If I'm selling athletic shoes out of a really old building that's hard to modify, then adding a ramp is going to be a business expense with no significant return, in all likelihood. Don't just assume business owners are ignorant blowhards when it comes to this stuff. – Graham Jul 20 '15 at 17:34
  • @Graham athletic shoes need to be delivered. Parents with strollers shop for athletic shoes. Parents in wheelchairs may be buying shoes for their kids. I do agree ADDING a ramp is expensive--just like rewriting already completed code is expensive. That's why it's best to figure this stuff out on day one so there isn't huge cost issues down the road. – DA01 Jul 20 '15 at 17:49
  • (Of course, at least in the US, the primary monetary argument for building a ramp even after the fact is to avoid a costly lawsuit) – DA01 Jul 20 '15 at 17:51
4

David Mulder and Das Beasto have some really good information in there. In response to one comment, the difference in their numbers is because Das Beasto (via Microsoft) is referring to "difficulties" while David Mulder is referring to specific disabilities. For example, someone with dyslexia, or color blindness, or who is simply very myopic has a visual difficulty but is not blind.

I work with disability advocates on accessibility in physical locations, and one of the things we push all the time is that not everyone that has a disability is what is conventionally thought of as "disabled". A kid that broke a finger playing basketball is at a disadvantage using your website in much the same way as an elderly user with arthritic joint stiffening, or a user with Parkinson's disease causing uncontrollable spasming and cramping in their hand. And overall, the population is aging. As it does so, the percentage of users with disabilities is only going to increase. One of the things my coworker likes to throw out is that everyone is going to be disabled at some point in their lives, whether it's because of injury, illness or aging.

The US Census reported in 2010 [pdf] that it did not find a single community in my state (Wisconsin) that did not have people self-reporting as disabled. We have towns of less than 300 people. They also determined that nearly 20% of Americans have some degree of disability, with roughly half of those classifying as a severe disability.

I would also say that if you're designing your website well, it should not be exceedingly difficult to make it accessible. Modern screenreaders and other assistive technology are getting really quite good, and assuming your site follows a good structure, you mostly just need to provide alternatives to video and images. You can easily implement elements that are only visible to assistive devices, which is helpful to make a skip link so that a visually impaired user doesn't have to listen to all of your navigation links on every page. Ensuring that all of your user interface elements are tab-reachable and have a reasonable tab order is not just essential for accessibility, it's good design. I do not have a disability, but if I have to use your page a lot and I can't tab through it cleanly, I'm going to be keeping an eye out for a better designed substitute, and I think you'll find that attitude common among a lot of young professionals (who tend to have disposable income).

Finally, it's good PR. Slap a label on your website touting its accessibility. A lot of people will be impressed like that. It's like calling your product green. Conversely, if I was at a brick and mortar store and I found out the owner wasn't willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars for a threshold ramp, I would walk out. I have no desire to support that kind of miserliness.

Edit

I would add that, at least in the US, the disability community is unusually well organized compared to most demographic groups. They will stage boycotts and start lawsuits if they feel unduly discriminated against.

Edited to add:

The ACLU produced this report on accessibility in online voter registration webpages that's been making the rounds in our office. Our website was not reviewed as we do not offer online registration, but we are incorporating its findings into our other sites.

2

I think you can find many references for technology or ideas that were originally conceived to make things more accessible, and in the end they have become mainstream because of the benefit it provides not only to handicapped users, but the general public as a whole.

In fact, these days it is preferable to think about inclusive design, which incorporates accessibility as one of the key concepts. This is also relevant because the modern trend is that there are so many different types of devices being used in different environments, and it makes sense to design interfaces and applications in a way that is easy to understand and use.

Whether you do implement the accessibility features and comply with guidelines such as the WCAG 2.0 AA Level is not really the issue here. The important thing is to think about all the users and whether you are really helping them access the content/service in a sensible way. The details of who should do this, how it should be done, when it needs to happen, etc. will not happen unless people can understand and appreciate why it needs to be done for their own purpose.

1

Following good accessibility practices also benefits people who use 'different' browser configurations.

Two which spring to mind are:

  • Text based browsers, such as Lynx, and:
  • Vimium, "which provides keyboard shortcuts for navigation and control".

When using these it because obvious very quickly which sites are well structured for accessibility. The most obvious example being 'unclickable links'.

Encountering this situation makes for a very frustrating user experience.


For the sake of your proposal, I'd go further and say: With the increasing range of devices and input systems appearing all the time, making this part of the process now could save a lot of effort down the road.

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