Accessibility and the inclusion principle

Posted July 27th, 2009 by Rachel

While looking for an old article on Alistapart that I really should have bookmarked eons ago but forgot to, I stumbled across an article on the inclusion principle. The basic message of the article is that accessibility is something that should be considered right from the start of a design, and not as an afterthought. More than that actually, accessibility should be central to ensuring a design’s useable, and universally useable. The article then goes on to explain how principles of accessibility can be included into websites, and what the prinicple of inclusion means.

Of course there’s always those who think that as long as a page validates and images have an ‘alt’ attribute that their page/site is accessible. I guess in those cases what’s needed is more education and continuing development and learning. No-one knows it all when it comes to accessibility, even the accessibility gurus don’t know it all (and they tend to freely admit that – probably with the exception of useability expert Jakob Nielsen, whose views on useability tend to be rather inflexible), and there’s always more to learn, new techniques, technologies, and opinions on what’s best practice when it comes to accessibility.

The article debunks the usual whining reasons from lazy and/or misinformed developers who don’t get why accessibility is important (you know the kind of thing – accessible design is boring, it’s too expensive, they don’t have disabled visitors anyway, etc. etc.), but most importantly the article gets across that what’s needed is a wholesale shift in the mindset that accessibility’s an optional extra (which of course it isn’t – especially if you’re a business covered by disability legislation).

Probably the most important thing though that the article says, apart from the premise of the entire article of inclusion, is that what we need to get away from (which is what the principle of inclusiveness promotes) is that there is a “them” and “us”. It’s something I’ve long argued is a problem in many areas; that for some reason humans seem intent on separating people into groups and labelling those who don’t share the same characteristics as the majority as “them”. It’s a concept I just don’t get, but that’s another discussion.

Probably my second favourite paragraph in the article is this one:

Once we embrace inclusiveness, it becomes difficult to marginalize others as members of one specific group, such as “users with disabilities.” If we discard “us” and “them” thinking, we stop looking for reasons to avoid accessibility, and we begin to see others’ needs as our own. With inclusion, we don’t dismiss web accessibility requirements, we see them as a chance to create empowerment by embracing our similarities and differences.

As the article says, if you stop looking at groups of people as “other” and concentrate on the similaries we all share, you realise that many of the needs of making a website useable and accessible are common to us all. My favourite line in the article though is this one:

What does your website sound like? Turn off your style sheet and look at what you’ve got. Suddenly the person listening to a website with a screen reader is no longer different from you—your needs are the same.

Good advice, and something we should all probably do with our sites, even if we think we know how to make a site accessible and what accessibility means, because chances are there’ll be quite a few things we’ve missed or simply not considered.

An interesting read.

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