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July 12, 2006

Web 2.0. The inaccessible web?

At O’, Hari K. Gottipati writes that “the main disadvantage of Ajax is [because] a Web page is not required to reload to change, many screen readers or other assistive technologies used by sight-impaired or otherwise disabled users may not be aware of the dynamic changes.” (AJAX Accessibility Issue caught vendors attention. Is this a major issue?)

This is bad.

Will developers make the effort to create accessible AJAX applications? Based on our experience with Flash technology, I’d have to say it’s unlikely. It’s possible to create accessible Flash content, but only a tiny percentage of Flash applications are accessible. WebAIM provides an excellent discussion of creating accessible Flash content: “When all accessibility techniques are applied to Flash, it can be universally accessible, perhaps even more so than HTML.

But read through the list of accessibility techniques, and try to remember the last time you saw Flash content that used even one of them.

We have come a long way in increasing the amount of accessible information. Before screen readers came along, accessibility meant either recording an audio version of a book or creating and printing a Braille version. Both techniques are expensive and, more importantly, time-consuming — a Braille textbook would trail the typeset version by six months or more.

We now have the ability to deliver content that’s universally accessible on the date of publication. When you decide how far to push this issue in your work, remember that any one of us could require accessible content someday. (Once again leading to my favorite question, “What if you were hit by a bus?”)