We’ll All Suffer a Disability Someday

color blind comparisonsThere is close to a 100 percent chance that we will all suffer from some sort of disability in our lifetime, said Tady Walsh.

It could be a broken bone, or failing sight or hearing as we age. So website designers need to factor this in.

“It’s not a responsibility to someone else, but a responsibility to yourself — your future self,” he said.

A developer, project manager at Areikbo Communications and co-curator at the HTML 5 Gallery, among other things, Walsh was making his case at the monthly Refresh Dublin (@refreshdublin) meeting yesterday. The talk, Let’s Get Accessible, was hosted by the Science Gallery (@sciencegallery).

Walsh defined accessibility as the practice of designing, building or maintaining websites that are available to all users. While there are some similarities with usability, they are separate topics, he said.

Saying accessibility “is not that difficult with a little forward planning,” Walsh was eager to dispel some myths about the field:

  • It is difficult to add
  • It is ugly
  • New technology out dates it
  • New tech isn’t ready
  • It is a pain in the ass.

Walsh said many clients will ask for accessible websites meeting AAA/WCAG 2.0 guidelines without fully understanding what they are asking for. It is an “abstract idea” or an exercise to “‘tick off a few boxes,” he said.

If accessibility is not planned as part of site design, wrong assumptions can be made. But the Project Manager, designers, user experience experts, developers and information architects all have a role.

“Accessibility is everybody’s responsibility. It is everybody’s concern,” Walsh said. Examples include designers who need to consider color blindness and poor vision, and developers who need to account for screen readers. Walsh said people with disabilities do the same work as he does. “Don’t create unnecessary hurdles,” he said.

Noting there are variations in the level of visual impairment, Walsh said the blind rely on screen readers such as JAWS or its open-source equivalent, NVDA. How pages and forms are coded can improve usability immensely for the blind, he said.

People with impaired vision may be unable to see writing clearly on the screen. Walsh showed one web page as it would appear to a person with sight problems, then noted the icon to make text larger was also invisible. “Make them useful. Make them obvious. Make them available … consider the audience you are aiming at,” he said.

smarties color wheelColour blindness is an issue designers need to heed, Walsh said. Colourful sites can have low contrast ratios, for example.

People with hearing problems should also be considered, Walsh said. Videos on a site should have sign language or closed captioning. Walsh asked the audience if YouTube was responsible for doing that on its website. Many said “yes,” but Walsh said the uploader should do it. “Users adding content to YouTube are disregarding their responsibilities,” he said.

Those with mobility problems should also be taken in to account, Walsh said. And with mobile apps becoming more important, it is of even greater concern. “Has anyone tried to use Dublin Bus website on your mobile phone?” he asked. The buttons and menus are too small even for people without difficulties.

Walsh likes to see bigger buttons and menu items — “what I like to call the Fisher Price school of design.”

People with intellectual disabilities are presented with their own set of challenges, Walsh noted. Font size and line spacing are important. And their problems should not be exacerbated by bad grammar or spelling, he said.

Captchas are also bad for those with reading difficulties. Even mildly dyslexic site visitors can struggle with them, Walsh said.

Accessibility Tools

  • YouTube: Users can submit videos for automated captioning, Walsh said. The results can be “unintentionally funny … You really should edit that. It will say things you don’t intend.”
  • Photoshop has tools to help you build sites for those with visual impairments.
  • Adobe’s Air browser Chrometric also has visualization tools
  • Webaim.org allows you to submit your site for compliance with standards.

Main image shows clockwise from top left: the rainbow as seen by people with no color blindness, the same colors viewed by a person with protanopia, the colors as viewed by a person with deuteranopia, and the rainbow seen by a person with tritanopia. Image is a compilation of those found on the Wikipedia article on color blindness.

Smaller image courtesy of Sarah & Mike Scott on Flickr.com.