Accessibility & Designers – A Poor Pair?

Today I read an article, in my local newspaper, about a woman who had left her new husband when he forgot to celebrate their one year anniversary. She went to stay with her mother, but doesn’t know if he’s figured out yet why she took off. Her mother was urging her to go back and patch things up with him.

I just had to laugh at that girls impulsive reaction to leave her husband over something like that. But then, I started thinking about how many things in the world people do that with. They see one thing, assume the worst possible scenario, and react based on that. In this case, the girl was convinced that he didn’t love her because he forgot the anniversary. A more likely answer is that he simply forgot. Sometimes, the truths that are the most basic and simple elude us in favor of a more dramatic reaction.

I can rather easily relate this to something I see regularly in the web development arena. It often appears that web designers are doomed to continue to see accessibility as the bane of their existence for many years to come. I truly think that much of what is feared about accessibility has more to do with a lack of understanding, than well-founded dislike.

So many web designers seem to view accessibility requirements for a website to somehow translate into meaning that they are supposed to design a boring or spartan website. Devoid of interesting tools or functionality that they want to add and lacking beautifully crafted graphics. That is simply not the case.

In my mind I can visualize a play where we have a web designer storming off the second they hear the accessibility person wants them to include some text-only function for the disabled. They may hear ‘more work’ or ‘less graphics’ or ‘boring’ and that’s what they’ve decided to think. The accessibility person, on the other hand, may not know why this person stormed off, and perhaps if they had stuck around they could’ve explained that they didn’t necessarily need to take away their graphics, only learn to add accessibility features.

To be quite honest, the people who have walked away thinking that there is going to be tons of work involved… should at least give it a shot. Try to understand what is involved with providing accessibility features to a website. Discover what it means to give alternate text value to a graphic image. See examples all around the web where people have used accessibility standards and still provide a graphically lovely user experience.

Quick tempers, and dislike for being told what they -have- to do, is rather common among tech people, so I’m not entirely surprised. In some ways, perhaps they are viewing the wrong opponent. In my view, it’s not so much the accessibility people that the designers have to fear … it’s the usability experts 😉