3% of users browse with IE9 and 14% of users have a disability. Why do we only cater for the former?11 June 2014
I'd like to start this post with a disclaimer: I don't know much about creating accessible websites.
That's what has brought me to writing this blog post today - it concerns me that as a senior developer I've made it this far without gaining much meaningful knowledge on the subject.
Research commissioned by Microsoft in 20031 showed that 9% of working age computer users in the US have a severe visual difficulty or impairment. In addition, 5% have a severe dexterity difficulty or impairment.
Those aren't small numbers. As web developers, there are other percentages we'll be more familiar with2. Let's take a look:
If we can code for browsers like IE9 with 3% usage, why can't we code for the 9% of users with a visual impairment, or the 5% with a dexterity impairment?
So why do we think it is perfectly acceptable to spend time ensuring that our websites work in IE9, but not that you can navigate them with a keyboard?
It's all about developer awareness. I know how to make a website work in IE9, or at least I know how to check whether it does. But I've never been partially sighted or lost the use of an arm, so I don't know how to check whether my site is accessible.
If you have ever been asked to make a site accessible, you will have likely read up on a few articles that have pointed you to the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) site. The guidelines there are stunningly complex. The ironically titled "WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference List" is 23,000 words long.
Before I sound too critical of WCAG, the guidelines have to be complex because they form a full specification. Have you read the HTML5 specification recently? Maybe if you were having a specific issue. Did you learn HTML5 from the specification? No, because that would be crazy.
We learn HTML using beautifully laid out books and interactive websites like Codecademy, but there is a huge gap in the market for guides on crafting accessible content.
Right now, I suspect there are a lot of conversations like this happening:
- Manager: "How long will it take to make this site meet the accessibility guidelines?"
- Developer: "Never done a full site before. Let me just check those guidelines."
- Developer: "Wow. About a month."
- Manager: "Let's put that on the 'nice to have' pile for now then."
It's definitely a training issue. Once developers know how, they will naturally adapt the way they code to be more accessible without thinking about it.
I really hope that the response to this blog post is a load of comments like "What about the amazing site X? It's so easy to check whether my site is accessible there!". Surprise me. How easy has creating accessible content been for you?
1. The Wide Range of Abilities and Its Impact on Computer Technology (A Research Study Commissioned by Microsoft Corporation and Conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. in 2003) http://www.microsoft.com/enable/download/default.aspx#Research%20
2. StatCounter Global Stats - Top 10 Desktop, Tablet and Console Browser Versions Combining Chrome and Firefox 5+, May 2014