Iâ€™m surprised by the lack of awareness of Luca Passani from Openwave and co- founder of WURFL , about people who have special needs/preferences when browsing the Web. To put this into context, Iâ€™ll give you some background before I telling you why.
In 2005, The W3C started an initiative called the Mobile Web Initiative (MWI). The MWI Best Practices was one of the first documents created by the group. The document is basically a list of guidelines to help developers, who are not necessarily familiar with mobile technology, develop Web sites that will work better on mobile devices such as PDAs and Web enabled phones.
In the interest of taking advantage of existing expertise within the W3C, the group reviewed guidelines that already existed and started with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines help developers build sites that are accessible to as many people as possible. In short, Web accessibility is about making sure all visitors [users/people] on your Web site can access the content regardless of ability.
We took this route because Web sites that are built using accessibility guidelines for people are also very useful for making sites more accessible on different device types, such as desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones.
We went through the accessibility guidelines and discussed each one in great detail via conference calls and email. We discarded the guidelines that werenâ€™t appropriate for mobile devices and modified, where appropriate, the remaining guidelines. We then added additional best practices that didnâ€™t exist in WCAG. So in summary, we only used what was appropriate.
During an MWI email conversation, Luca made a passing comment about disabled peopleâ€™s needs and how they should be met. In my opinion, he made too many assumptions about how to be fair and equal to disabled people.
Rather than clog up the W3Câ€™s inbox with opinions about making the Web accessible to all, I thought it might be a good idea to write this post and solicit readersâ€™ opinions.
So, Luca was responding to the following comment
â€¦ help developers ensure that they build Web sites which are accessible to as many users as possible, including people with disabilities.
Lucaâ€™s response was
People with disabilities should get software or reformatting proxies built to enable them to hit the regular web. Are hotel rooms built for people with disabilities? no, but they usually have 3 or 4 rooms built for that purposes.
Do metro stations have enough lifts to carry thousands of people going in and out? no. They have one lift or two for people with disabilities and ladies pushing a pram.
Same goes for anything else. We canâ€™t disable the web because of people with disabilities, we need to enable it for them. Same goes for the mobile web of course. In fact, itâ€™s already hard enough to enable the mobile web for people without disabilitiesâ€¦
Leaving the difficulties of developing Web sites that will work on mobile devices aside; I would like to focus on Lucaâ€™s comment regarding people with disabilities.
First of all, his last comment about not disabling the Web for people with disabilities is obvious. However, I think the rest of his comment demonstrates ignorance and lack of awareness for people who have different needs.
I think heâ€™s talking about disabled people, as if they deserve second best. Theyâ€™re perhaps even second class citizens who deserve only to stay in specific rooms in hotels and leave by the back door because itâ€™s wide enough for delivery services.
Not only is Web accessibility a moral and corporate social responsibility, itâ€™s actually a legal requirement in countries such as the UK, United States and Australia. Furthermore, it makes good business sense given all the financial and search optimisation benefits which weâ€™ll cover in another post.
There are circumstances where itâ€™s not possible to provide equal access to everyone all of the time.
â€˜Accessibilityâ€™, we should try our best not to discriminate against other people, by making sure everyone in society has equal access and is treated fairly – but should this come at the expense of making redundancies or closing down a business?
Below are three examples that demonstrate how society just doesnâ€™t get it, or perhaps, doesnâ€™t care?
- My first example below demonstrates that providing the same access to everyone isnâ€™t possible all of the time, yet people are still treated equally.
- The second example demonstrates a situation where it is possible to provide equal access, but a local authority has decided to prohibit â€˜access to everyoneâ€™, in favour of the sentimental value of a building.
- My final example draws the parallel between the first two accessibility issues that are recognised by everyone, irrespective of the industry theyâ€™re involved in and the online world.
Every example is based on my personal experience.
My next door neighbour is a solicitor with an office located on the forth floor of a very narrow, listed building . Itâ€™s technically impossible to install a lift. The cost of adding an extension in order to install a lift is significantly disproportionate to the benefits of making it accessible to wheelchair users. In short, he would go out of business if forced to install a lift.
So, to ensure he is being inclusive and fairly accommodating all clients, he makes customers and potential customers aware that heâ€™s very happy to meet with them in the cafÃ© across the road.
Do you think he should try to install a lift no matter what the cost? Or do you think itâ€™s ok to meet people in the cafÃ©?
Retail outlet Gap is located in the scenic high-street of Guildford . Gap also happens to be located in a listed building. They applied for planning permission to have a lift installed during a complete refurbishment project, perhaps for dads like me with two small children in a double pushchair (gremlins at the best of time when your back is turned) (note, I include myself and my double pushchair in the classification â€œdisabledâ€ here, I am not restricting the term to the traditional sense of the word).
Gapâ€™s planning permission to install a lift was denied by Guildford Council as it is a listed building. Today, Gap has a beautifully furnished retail outlet but it doesnâ€™t permit access to the menâ€™s department for a great number of potential customers, including dads with double pushchairs and wheelchair users.
Is this ok? If you were the planning authority for Guildford and you had to choose between two pieces of legislation, would you choose a building over people? Could Gap still be taken to court? Personally I think thereâ€™s a case to take against Guildford Council.
Could Guildford Council be taken to court? Remember the airport was also found 50% liable when Ryanair lost their court case for charging a passenger for the use of a wheelchair.
River Island (youâ€™ve probably read about this in the media last year) built a Web site that didnâ€™t provide equal access to everyone. In fact, itâ€™s one of the most inaccessible Web sites Iâ€™ve every come across. Itâ€™s horrible.
Since theyâ€™ve been slated in the press and reaping the benefit of free PR (it is arguable at the same time that they used great marketing tactics). River Island has stated that it will build a HTML alternative so that disabled users can have access.
Nearly a year later and River Island still hasnâ€™t built an accessible site. Do they really think that a placeholder page is a â€˜get out of jail free cardâ€™?
So, not only will River Island have to spend more time and money building a new site, they will have to spend ongoing time and money in maintaining the site because both must provide the same products and services at the same time. Otherwise theyâ€™re back to square one and could end up in court.
Some users may feel discriminated against if theyâ€™re asked to use another Web site â€˜just becauseâ€™.
So, if itâ€™s not technically possible, or the cost is significantly disproportionate to the benefit of making a Web site accessible, then provide an alternative.
Does River Island fit into this category? Last year I would have said maybe, but because they havenâ€™t bothered their arse to do anything Iâ€™d say they should be sued for purposely excluding people. I have time for organisations that arenâ€™t aware, but I have no time for those that have been told in black and white what theyâ€™re doing is wrong.
Should people write to Guildford Council to find out why they think itâ€™s more important to maintain the look â€˜n feel of the inside of a building than it is to provide equal access to everyone and to treat everyone fair?
Iâ€™m very interested to hear your opinion because often we entertain extreme views in society. We have people who think disabled users get too many parking spaces in shopping centres, while others go on the war path if they see a driver in a disabled spot 5 mins before Tesco is about to close on a Sunday afternoon and itâ€™s unlikely that 50 disabled drivers are about to enter the car park and require that same spot.
If we find it difficult to get it right on the high-street, how on earth are we supposed to get it right online? If we canâ€™t get it right online after 16 years, what hope do we have when making the Web mobile?