In his latest DaveNet, Dave Winer gets accessibility. He says that the disabled don’t want accessibility, they want to use the web. Exactly right. Accessibility is not anything different from usability but rather a critical part of it. True accessibility means a website is usable to everyone, not just the ‘abled.” After a year of mucking about with Section 508 and how the government typically handles it (read: badly) it’s great to see that people are starting to understand this.
My favorite example of accessibility gone horribly wrong is the way the government used to implement one of the critical Section 508 websites. Every single graphic, no matter how mundane or useless, was marked up with alt text. Why? Because Section 508 says so. What you had, if you used a screen reader, was something like the following:
A Blue spiral on the upper left corner with a blue line leading into the title of the site. A graphic with the title of the site reading "Section 508 Resources" with a blue line running through the letters and over to another blue spiral on the right side...
It went on like that for a long time. How on Earth is that accessible to anyone?
What I preach is usable accessibility. Design a good UI for the screen reader users as well as the MSIE and Mozilla users. For the Mac people, the PC people, the Braille people, etc. Don’t design for one and then retrofit. Design from the ground up keeping in mind all users.
And the secret? Following standards is the key. When I started doing my sites in xhtml and CSS and really following the best practices, it became so much easier to do this.