Motivations for Web accessibility

How did you get into Web accessibility? Roger Johansson asks that question over at 456 Berea Street, inspired by Ian Lloyd asking the same question at the blog.

I find all the answers to both posts interesting and educational. There are many valuable tips in these stories. If you are curious about Web accessibility, read them. You may find a story that resonates with you and inspires you to dig deeper.

I am not a Web designer or developer. I consider myself more of an advocate. I try to keep up with the topics of accessibility and usability out here on the periphery, and quietly evangelize about their benefits to whoever I meet. Growing up with a mother who worked as a special needs teacher made me regard accessibility as something natural, almost to be taken for granted. When I had the opportunity to join the AccessAbility SIG of the Society for Technical Communication, I took it. Currently, I am comanager of that SIG, where I am quite happy to discuss and promote accessibility. In fact, it puzzles me when I meet people who don’t see a need for accessibility, or even a reason to concern themselves about it.

Actually, I think it is a matter of awareness. One individual may not have any need for anything that is accessible and can go through life blissfully unaware of the concept. I would hope that that individual is at least respectful of others who do need everything around them to have some degree of accessibility. Perhaps some people are simply not aware of the need for accessibility on the Web (or anywhere else). I like this quote from Mike Cherim:

Organizations such as the Guild of Accessible Web Designers and Accessify Forum enlighten and help spread the notion of web accessibility to the masses and provide support, even if not everyone agrees with the accuracy of the message or the definition of web accessibility. These organizations are gateways to the world of web accessibility. Without these organizations many people wouldn’t even be aware such considerations exist.

(The bold formatting is my doing.) Yes, it is the awareness that is needed, and as a technical communicator, I try to do my best in my little corner of the world to communicate that awareness when and where I can.

Accessibility is not an issue where everyone agrees completely, however. Recent discussions here, here, and here prove that. That type of disagreement can be pretty daunting to newcomers. At the other extreme: what do you do when someone asks you, “why bother with this Firefox thing when you have Internet Explorer?” (In fact, that person first thought Firefox was a search engine, and couldn’t see how it was better than Google.) Not everyone is Web-savvy. There is a lot (and I mean a lot) of educating and explaining to do, and it is best done in a positive, constructive atmosphere. In such cases, listening is probably one of the most important things to do.

What’s your interest in Web accessibility? Let me know your thoughts here, or leave a comment on one of the other links I have mentioned.

Making Accessible Tables for Your Website

Have you ever had trouble trying to code accessible tables on your Web site? I could never remember the codes myself. I always needed to have Mike Paciello‘s book, Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities opened up to the pages with all the codes for making accessible tables.

Now Frank Palinkas has made a practical tool for anyone who is trying to learn how to code accessible tables. In the Fast Track Tutorials section, there is a tutorial called Creating Accessible Tabular Data Tables. One nice advantage is that you can simply copy the code from his tutorial and paste it into your HTML editor to prepare the correct code. (Paste it into the code-view.)

If you are brand new to standards and accessibility and wonder what accessible tables are, then Frank’s tutorial is definitely for you. He made the tutorial as a demonstration of web standards and accessibility methods for the proper way of making tables. You see, tables on websites are for data, not layout. I hope most people do realize this, but there are still extra steps that should be taken for making tables that can be read in a screen reader. Try out the tutorial and start coding accessible tables today.

Frank will be presenting at the WritersUA conference in San Diego, California, March 25-28. He promises to be on his standards-and-accessibility soapbox!

(Disclaimer: I was one of the people who helped test Frank’s tutorial. I am promoting it because of my interest in web standards and accessibility.)