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The ‘accessibility backlash’ – it’s a good thing!

I’ve begun to hear rumblings in the press, on blogs and through word-of-mouth of a so-called ‘accessibility backlash’.

“…Owners of some small businesses feel that ‘the DDA has gone too far’!”

“…Some web developers believe that too much emphasis has been placed on blindness and partial sight at the expense of people with other impairments!”

I am so happy to hear this.

During my 12 years at RNIB I coordinated national campaigns to raise awareness of web accessibility. The aim was simply to get accessibility onto the business agenda. It thrills me to now learn that industry representatives are finally responding to accessibility, and with such passion. Industry figures aren’t merely aware of web accessibility. They’re now arguing about it!

Every piece of press that offers comment on accessibility – good, bad or indifferent – presents those in the ‘accessibility movement’ with a golden opportunity to:

* correct misunderstandings
* explode myths
* share good practice tips and case studies
* promote the business case for accessibility

While there is a backlash accessibility will remain on the agenda. So let’s be sure we contribute to the debate at every opportunity. The greatest threat to the accessibility movement is lack of passion. Passionate debate will bring about change.

A ‘disability backlash’ is very good news for disabled people. Long may it continue!

Julie Howell, Fortune Cookie


  1. Andy Baker | January 18th, 2007 | 12:36 pm

    That’s funny. I just wrote a late night rant about the same issue!

    I think my beef is about the disconnect between what gets passed down as best practice and what actually provides tangible benefits.

    With so many websites falling short on both accessibility *and* usability I would argue that in a situation where resources are limited (most of the time for most websites), prioritising usability is more likely to impact positively on accessibility than the other way round.

    The cost benefit analysis with a lot of accessibility guidelines is rather lacking so it’s easy for the well intentioned to spend too much time on areas that produce only minimal benefit to the intended beneficiaries…

  2. Julie Howell | January 18th, 2007 | 1:33 pm

    Hi Andy

    For me, usability and accessibility and two sides of the ‘good web design coin’.

    Accessibility is the ability of any person, in any circumstance using any device to access content. Usability is the success of the user in completed a task in a reasonable amount of time, etc.

    When considering the rights of disabled people, I use the term ‘usability by disabled people’. This is really what the Disability Discrimination Act is about.

    Hmm… I feel a couple of blog posts coming on. Stay tuned…

    I entirely agree with you regarding the disconnect between theory and practice. This is the very reason PAS 78: Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites was commissioned (by the Disability Rights Commission… and it’s free of charge).

  3. Geoff Vines | February 20th, 2007 | 4:27 pm

    I think there is a risk some web site designers spend, and therefore waste, too much time adding percieved accessibility features that should not be required.

    For example, you see three sizes of the letter ‘A’ for adjusting text size, but it doesn’t work cross-browser. The site is offered with alternative contrasts. A text only version is provided.

    If the site is properly designed not to be ‘anti-accessible’, then I think we should give more credit to the end-user to know how to use the tools of their choice so that the site is accessible for them, whatever their particular disability.

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