Making the Future Web Accessible to People with Disabilities

The topic of this session was really interesting to me because it’s hard to imagine my own life without the web, and I wonder how someone with a disability might experience it. The presenter, Shawn Lawton Henry, from MIT (and working on the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative) gave some excellent examples, demos, and personal stories. She was also a particularly dynamic speaker, and engaged the audience throughout the talk.

Shawn showed us examples of how web sites would “look” to someone using a screen reader, illustrating how much incredibly simple techniques can matter for accessibility. One thing that I think is interesting is that, in general, the accessibility techniques (like using appropriate headers, alternate text for images, good link names, etc) lead to a better experience for everyone using a web site, not just someone with disabilities.

Experiencing first hand the way a web site can look when it’s properly marked up, versus improperly marked up was very enlightening. I already was aware of the huge impact the web has had on enabling people with disabilities to participate in many things that were not possible before. Now I have a new perspective on the challenges that remain. The takeaway here is that accessibility is VITAL, and we can all help to make it happen.

She proposed some things we can all do:

-Communicate the benefits of accessibility (more customers can use site effectively in more situations)

-Checking web accessibility (Take a look at your own web sites and see how accessible they are) You can get rid of your mouse and see how usable the site is. You can turn off images. Check the alternative text for images. Simple stuff, folks… why not do it?!

-Gently encourage accessibility

-Reward accessible websites.

I’m glad I attended this session, and I’ll be checking out my own web sites for accessibility in the coming days and as I create new content.

Angela Dalton
Official GHC 2007 Blogger

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