Paris Web 2011 : Accessibility

In October, I was attending the Paris Web event. For those that haven't heard of it, it is THE french web event, two days of conference on various subjects web related. It is language agnostic and talks range a very broad list of topics from accessibility, open data, security, performance, UX, UI, html5, etc.

I've attended 16 talks in the course of the event, plus a full day of workshops. I would need far more than a single post to write down everything I learn from those days, both technical and human. I really love Paris Web for those moments where you start to chat with other peoples as passionate as you are.

Here, I'll only focus on a specific subject that everyone cared about : Accessibility.

Know your audience

Accessibility was discussed at length, as it always is the case in Paris Web. It is one of the values held by Paris Web that I also hold dear. My only regret is that it feels like everyone in Paris Web attendee were already familiar with it, had implemented at least the basic good practices, that we all were already convinced of why it is good. I kind of feel that were not the right public, that the speech was wasted on us as we already were convinced.

We, as web professional, are aware of the accessibility concerns. Big groups and public websites are aware of it too. But the middle ground of small companies do not care. "This is not our target", "Spending 40% more for 10% of users ? No way", "We are not big enough", are answers I've often heard when trying to explain to clients why I cared about aspects of their projects they didn't even see.

Continuous integration

Laurent Denis and Elie Sloïm told us that accessibility should not be thought as the last part of a project, the one we do the day before launch. It has to be taken into account for the very start of the project, in the conception phase, and not at the end, as a correction phase.

Every person ever included in the project should be at least aware of the accessibility concern, this is not the work of one man alone. Accessibility experts are not people you can hire to fix your website once it's done. They should be requestd during all the conception phase.

No one ever read the 100 page accessibility audit. No one wants to be told at the end of the project that what they did is wrong and that they should start everything over from scratch. Instead, mini briefs, on mini subjects, sometimes no longer than 15mn, on a regular basis can yield very great results. Starting with the general website semantic, adding unobstrusive javascript, and going deeper and deeper into tasks more and more difficult.

There is no perfection in accessibility. There's only an ideal we tend to. You don't fix a website for accessibility, you just improve it.

Throw away formal accreditations

We can't make a website absolutly perfect, we can just improve it on little touches to make it better and better. A, AA and AAA homologation is absurd, because there is no metrics to quantify the level of accessibility of a website. How could you compare two accessibility features ? How video subtitles is more accessible than alt on images ? We should just forget the accreditations. At first, we did accessibility improvement to help people with disabilities. Somewhere along the years, we became legally forced to provide accessibility measures and it became one more line on the planning and we lost the initial meaning that was driving us.

We should really take accessibility down that pedestal we put it. It's not that hard to make an accessible website, don't be scared by the list of accreditation and rules.

What about HTML5 ?

The geek side of your mind can't stop feeling the excitation when everyone talks about all the shiny stuff : file API, history, geolocation, web sockets, forms, etc. But the eternal question remains : what good are those new toys if we can only serve them to a handful of users. Will I use them now, for the benefit of only some, or will I wait for better support for the benefit of all ? But if I don't promote them myself, I'm only slowing down adoption by all browsers...

That's a tricky question and I don't have a definite answer (and that's fine !).

Paul Bakaus posted recently and article where he stated that it is better to build something awesome for 70% of the people that something good for 95% of them. It surely is true in the gaming world where gamers have the habit of buying new hardware to keep with the new game graphics. In the classical web world, we are still scared of asking the user to change its browser.

But it tickles my accessibility sense when someone told me that a part of the users won't be able to access the content because they don't have the correct requirement. This feels absolutly contrary to the open web principles.

Tags : #paris-web #accessibility

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