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September 9, 2006

Accessibility suddenly moves up the priority list

Most web designers are aware of Section 508 requirements, which in essence require web sites to be accessible to persons with disabilities. However, Section 508 applies only to companies that sell to the United States government. Provided you’re willing to give up the U.S. government as a potential customer, your web site could be completely inaccessible.

A landmark ruling against Target Corporation now holds that a retailer’s web site must be accessible to customers:

The court thus rejected Target’s argument that only its physical store locations were covered by the civil rights laws, ruling instead that all services provided by Target, including its Web site, must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Legal Precedent Set for Web Accessibility (National Federation for the Blind press release

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accessibility of offices, store locations, and the like. In this case, the court has ruled that both physical and web sites fall under the accessibility requirement.

It’s actually pretty easy to produce HTML content that’s accessible. But when you start using the whiz-bang technologies–JavaScript, Java applets, Flash, AJAX–ensuring accessibility becomes more challenging.

For buildings, designing for accessibility is now a given. Doors must be a certain width, restrooms provide grab bars, and elevators provide an alternative to stairs.

How long before the equivalent web site techniques become equally embedded in “standard” design?

The problems with are mostly simple fixes. Here is a partial list from the NFB press release:

  • ALT text for graphics
  • Inaccessible image maps and other graphical features
  • Mouse required to complete a transaction (I take this to mean that, for example, you cannot tab over to a selection and press Enter to apply it. Many sighted individuals use these keyboard shortcuts; their omission is simply odd.)