Accessibility – why bother?

maze formed by streetlamps blocking not lighting the wayI’ve been focusing a lot this year on web design, content and usability. Mainly because I’ve been working on my new web site, with lots of help from the wonderful and infinitely patient Zoë Tucker of Rude Goose. I’ve also attended several usability workshops run by the Nielsen Norman Group (aka NN/g) – and if anything focuses your mind on usability and accessibility issues, it’s an NN/g workshop. Their videos of web-savvy visually impaired or blind users trying to cope with thoughtlessly designed sites are painful to watch.

Yet some people dismiss accessibility as not worth bothering about. It’s not a legal requirement, they say. How many customers with disabilities are you likely to have? Why bother?

Well, accessibility is worth bothering about. It is, quite simply, right to bother. And even if your main concern is the bottom line, it makes sense to open up your site to as many users as possible. Why on earth exclude potential customers?

It doesn’t cost much to make a site accessible, in fact it needn’t cost anything at all, apart from some extra time and care in the design process. And accessible sites will probably benefit “able” users too, not to mention winning you search-engine brownie points.

A 2-part article I’ve just read by NN/g’s Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini makes a point that should give even the accessibility sceptics food for thought:

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be disabled? Well, you better start thinking about it! As my collegue Gregg Vanderheiden is fond of pointing out, “We all will have disabilities eventually, unless we die first”.

Bruce also cites two firms that have found an inclusive approach to be good for business: OXO, a household utensils producer whose distinguishing feature is:

Universal Design – A philosophy of making products that are easy to use for the widest possible spectrum of users.

and Simple Human, which designs

everyday tools to help people become more efficient at home

You can read Bruce’s thought-provoking article here and here for more accessibility  insights.

By Marian Dougan

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