Some Views on Contemporary Web Accessibility

Jeff Croft seems to have caused quite a stir on his blog: Has accessibility been taken too far? It’s even brought me out of my unintentional hiatus.

We’re all human and live in the real world. Sometimes I think we forget, distracted by a passion. Others forget that we forget, distracted by a passion. Here I discuss/ramble on about my point of view.

Warning: Potential over-use of the word “reasonable” or variants thereof.

To Jeff Croft

In part, this post replies to Has accessibility been taken too far? but comments aren’t necessarily aimed at you, so please don’t take anything to heart. I think I understand where you’re coming from, but perhaps the expection you feel is self-imposed. We’d all like to live in an ideal world, but we don’t.

I’m a freelancer, so I can’t say I really run into the world of content-driven, “maintained” websites (newspapers, etc.) regularly, although my role does shift with each project, something that keeps me interested and happy in my work.

I agree with your comment that accessibility is a “continuum”. I’ve been taught that disability is a spectrum and that people have individual and varied access needs and I maintain that point of view. It follows then that accessibility is also a spectrum.

Practical Accessibility

Accessibility is about not putting up unnecessary barriers for our audiences. That covers personal and technological barriers, right? Often, I think people consider accessibility the wrong way around. “How can I stop this barrier from causing a problem” rather than not causing a barrier in the first place. I’m not saying everyone’s like that or that it’s always practical to avoid causing a barrier in the first place, but I do think that the way we approach accessibility strongly affects how we feel about it and can cause animosity for the subject. And it can sometimes seem like small things Web designers could all be doing that can make a big impact are being avoided for little reason.

As a Web professional footnote 1, I do what I am able to do within imposed constraints, and I can do little more – sounds reasonable to me. The important thing to me is that I know what I do makes some difference. In my mind, Web accessibility has never been forced – ignore the legal (non-)issue for now. Web accessibility has certainly never been black and white. I try to build accessible sites because I know I can and think I should. I may not always achieve it, but at least I try.

Before we start any project, we find out what’s important to that project considering the constraints imposed on it. For some projects, accessibility means we simply code how we’ve learnt to code. For me, that’s well-structured, semantic markup with separate presentation and behavioural layers. And yes, checking boxes to a certain extent. Other projects we are free to think a little more about what we are doing, allowing us to add extras. But I don’t see anyone forcing us to provide alternatives to video content to pass a Priority 3 WCAG checkpoint if the time or money just isn’t there – but only to consider it if the resources are there.

One site I maintain has a small number of video clips that I have attempted to transcribe and describe. They aren’t very long clips, so adding this little extra was reasonably quick. I may not have done the best job in the world doing it, but I followed some tips and at least it’s something. A site with a greater amount of multimedia content should consider the accessibility of their content. If the required resources to make the content more accessible are not there, they can’t really do it. I’d like to see YouTube try accessifying their content! Reasonable? No. They have no real control over their user-base and I cannot see them imposing compulsary audio descriptions on their users! The point is, I guess, that the time and money should be there and factored in. In the business world though, it’s probably just not important enough, which is certainly a shame, but that’s the way it is, at least until a viable solution is developed.

If a project requires that the site support older browsers with limited features, we do it. If text on a site doesn’t resize in IE6 with default settings, we shouldn’t be punishing a userbase because of limitations or complex settings in a browser. It doesn’t mean that you cannot use pixel units at all (elastic versus fixed-width layout), but if you have the time to ensure resizing the text doesn’t break things too badly, then great. Setting relative font-sizes that work isn’t difficult and a design doesn’t have to be pixel-perfect when the text is resized. Ignore simple enhancements if you wish, but just be careful sometimes – there’s not always an alternative solution that works well.


We all know it – accessibility is frustrating. We’d all like to live in that ideal world where accessibility is a given, but we don’t. It’s frustrating that the Web has so much potential but seemingly mainstream Web design is only just waking up to that.

It’s frustrating that, with all the things that good Web designers and developers do, our efforts are still not as useful as they could be because of adolescent accessibility in other areas, most recognisably of which in our industry is software and operating systems.

I think there’s pressure in the Web industry (at least in the blog-reading world) to include the latest techniques or tools in our sites, accessible or otherwise. Techniques are to be used where appropriate and tools are just that – tools, not requirements. I’d love to implement a zoom layout, and I’ve been meaning to since @media 2005. I just don’t have the time – heck, my blog posts haven’t been published in over two months because I just haven’t had the time to get beyond the half-written drafts I have sat on my hard drive – a personal constraint. I try not to let myself be affected by “professional” pressure in my work. I get on with it, I make a living and I try my utmost to make my work accessible to whatever extent is practical.

Perhaps we need to learn to give ourselves and our peers a break from time to time. Accessibility shouldn’t feel like a burden and we shouldn’t feel like giving up on accessibility. It’s a worthwhile and achievable goal.


I don’t like the word “zealot” and the implied excessiveness or irrationality. The word “passionate” seems more reasonable. OK, some people may have a few screws loose (I couldn’t even name names if I wanted to) but heck, we’re all human. Over the last few years, accessibility has become a passion for me. I just try to be objective about it. Or perhaps I’m just too nice to get overly vocal about it.


A discussion seems to raise its head from time to time when people hit a stumbling block and say accessibility stifles design, or stifles innovation. It cropped up a couple of years ago:

As you’ll gather from my comments on the Accessify Forum discussion, I don’t agree. Accessibility poses a challenge to the creative; designers, developers, engineers… I’ve seen a lot of great work and research come about from thinking about accessibility and using it as a baseline for innovation.

People might also be interested to read an article supporting accessible innovation published last year on Digital Web: Innovative Design Inspired by Accessibility.

The Electronic Curb-Cut Effect makes another interesting read, showing how products inspired by accessibility throughout history have become successful in the mainstream.


  1. I’m not a designer, more a developer, but I would perhaps say I’m both, but not all the time – you get the picture. Perhaps not being of any one of these works to my advantage though as far as accessibility is concerned. Back to footnote 1 source