When you get right down to it, the goal of accessible website development is to ensure that your entire site is usable. By everyone. By everything.
Okay, maybe not everything. Human and machine. We’ll leave the rocks and minerals to sort out their own computing issues.
So why is this important? Well, a usable site gets used. Sounds like I’m stating the obvious, doesn’t it? If you’ve spent more than five minutes on the Web, you’ll realize I’m not. Setting aside the issue of accessibility (which I believe is a big part of usability), most sites are designed without the end user in mind. The focus is on…well, I don’t know what the focus is; all I can assume is that the person trying to access, buy, or read the site wasn’t considered by the design team.
Where usability and accessibility intersect is at the non-technical aspects of your website. The organization of the navigation. The organization of information. The clarity of the writing. The ease of completing tasks. When we visited the Knowbility booth at SXSW 2004, we sat down with Wen, an experienced JAWS user. Given the overall accessibility of our site, she had no trouble working it. It was only as I listened to the site (rather than my normal visual skimming for topics of interest) that I understood where we could improve on our usability.
This experience led us to think about our work in a different way. As we reviewed a content item we’d posted for a client, we agreed it was well-formatted, clear, and understandable. We also agreed that we could make it just that much better by adding bulleted lists (which we can stylize using CSS). Doing this will make it easier for non-sighted users to quickly move through this rather lengthy document of names and contact information.
For most of our clients, sitting down and thinking about how to make something good even better isn’t a luxury they can afford. Get it up and move on is the basic goal. As the developers, it’s something we can both consider and address — by improving the tools we provide our clients, we can improve both the usability and accessibility of their sites. We can help them achieve their number one goal: universal access.