To start off, I would like to thank Bob Garfield and all of the staff from “On The Media” for the fabulous opportunity they gave Sharron Rush and I to advocate for a cause that is vital to all of us. We are so grateful to have the chance to bring attention to accessibility, it will help us to continue moving toward our goal of web access for all. The interviews that followed immediately after ours were fantastic as well and I will definitely be talking more about those in future posts. All that said, I feel I need to clarify or expand on something I stated in our interview. I may have inadvertently given people the wrong idea about how far we are in terms of website accessibility.
This past weekend, I began my Saturday listening to the show, anxious to hear how we sounded as we brought awareness to accessibility on national radio. I was smiling as they played the parts where I had JAWS working on the web, and as Sharron Rush talked about just how important the issue is to so many. Then came the question from Mr. Garfield, “Desiree, as you surf the Web, what percentage of websites are accessible to you and what percent give you the kind of garbled response that we just heard?” Desiree’s answer, “Probably 75% I can get on now.” But what exactly did I mean by that? Unfortunately, I neglected to clarify my answer and people who hear that may be misled!
It is true that a combination of technology improvements and awareness of the need for accessibility have made the internet a much better place for me to go. Most sites that I visit, I can get a general idea and feel for what the developers want to offer, at least I think so. Unfortunately, I am most times alone when I go to various WebPages and do not have the benefit of eyes peering over my shoulder to tell me all about content that I am missing out on. I have had many experiences where someone talks about aspects of a webpage that I didn’t even know were there. So on one hand, yes I can get onto most sites. However, is all of the content on that site accessible and compliant to Section 508 standards? No, definitely not. In fact there have been recent studies worldwide which determine that a very high percentage of current websites do not meet accessibility guidelines.
In addition, I am only speaking as the voice of an extremely experienced Screen Reader and computer user. What I may find accessible and usable may be impossible for someone else even using my same technology to access. I have been able to give many of my visually impaired peers some tips and tricks on certain sites because I have become familiar with them. I also have an inborn tendency to problem solve and work around any issues I may encounter and at times it is so automatic, I forget that unless I jump through some hoops, the site and its contents would be completely inaccessible to me.
Lastly, as Sharron pointed out in the interview, blindness is not the only disability considered. Accessibility applies to all types of challenges users may have, from deafness to dyslexia and everything in between. While a Screen Reader may provide access to, for example a radio station site with podcasts, if there are no captions or transcripts, someone who cannot hear misses out on major aspects of that site. While JAWS may not work less reliably if there are contrast issues, someone with low vision will find it impossible to navigate. I could go on forever talking about the different ways in which people have and do not have access to web content, but I think you get my point.
So, the answer I should have given to the question would be that while I may find the majority of current websites basically usable, most still have a long way to go to meet accessibility standards. I definitely do not want my overly optimistic statement to hamper the growing progress we are making in accessibility education and awareness. I would not want people to get the idea that we are 75% there when it comes to website accessibility, because that is simply not the case. The need for constant outreach will always be there, as new sites are being built every day and design technology is evolving. With that in mind, we will all press on in our efforts to make the World Wide Web a more user friendly and accessible place to be!