Does accessibility have to be perfect?

At CSUN next week I’ll be on a panel alongside Léonie Watson, Sarah Lewthwaite, Kath Moonan and Lisa Herrod tacking the thorny topic of does accessibility have to be perfect? (good job these ladies are fiesty).

Area’s we’ll cover are:


Do web accessibility guidelines do more damage than good?


There is a clear professional and legal imperative for striving for perfect accessibility. Is the risk of not pursuing this goal too high for organisations or is the goal of ‘perfect accessibility’ itself too high?


Can we really teach accessibility well to everyone who needs to know about it?


Involving diverse users in user testing is essential for any project, but is the customer always right?


Disability is so complex and variable can we even agree what ‘perfect accessibility’ is?


Striving for perfection in one area may come at a cost. Should we cater for the greatest goood for the greatest number?

We’d love to know what you think and gather a few opinions ahead of time so tweet, comment, blog, let us know what you think.  If this has whet your appetite you may also want to check out Ian Pouncey’s session cyberethics and accessibility. I’ll also be presenting making the mobile web accessible. If you can’t make it I’ll be tweeting tidbits and blogging what I can.

Update 6th March 2012

Huge thanks to the tireless Joe Dolson who took extensive notes during the session. I have no idea how he managed to keep up but he did.


14 thoughts on “Does accessibility have to be perfect?

  1. Very exciting topic and it sounds like a great panel! One of the best things about accessibility is that so many people in our community are driven by a desire to do the right thing. All of us undoubtedly feel that it is important that access to ICT be equal for all people. The challenge we face, however, is that truly equal (aka perfect) access for every single person is neither possible nor practical. There may be budget constraints, time constraints, resource constraints, or technical constraints which make perfect accessibility impractical or impossible.

    That being said, I often find that the major contributing factors causing inaccessible ICT are ignorance and lack of creativity. I think we can have more accessible ICT today if we can overcome the ignorance and lack of creativity on the part of people involved in developing ICT products & services and we can do so while still meeting business needs. Perfect may never exist, but we can still get much closer than we generally are.

    Can’t wait to attend this excellent panel!

  2. Ditto to Karl’s comments. We always teach that web accessibility is a continuum. You can always be more accessible. But this also means that you’ll always be inaccessible to someone. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s vital that it be understood otherwise you’ll spend time fighting the wrong battles. The goal is to be continually progressing on that continuum while setting and achieving good measures along the way.

  3. Hi there

    Great panel. Wish I could be there. Please let me know if it is available online! And what a great subject. I too echo the thoughts of both of the writers above. But I want accessibility to be higher on the agenda in education. Often it’s an afterthought and sometimes not even that. Best of luck with the panel. Sue

  4. In my area in particular it’s (almost always) physically impossible for something to be accessible to everyone, and the notion of something being completely accessible is extremely damaging, giving people the impression that the whole field is just pie in the sky.

    If you just take the meaning of removing unnecessary barriers though rather than perfection, standards and guidelines fill a vital role.

    Of course in the deam scenario everyone would understand all of the issues and what to do about them, but not everyone has the luxury of being a specialist/expert.. so for those people, people who want to do something about it but don’t have the necessary knowledge or understanding, S&G are a fantastic means of siphoning other people’s existing accumulated knowledge.

  5. This sounds like an interesting panel. wish I was attending CSUN. Assuming one could actually define perfect accessibility, I think the answer is no you don’t always have to have this but then as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Far too often in my experience when people settle for something less than perfect, there is a big disconnect between those deciding what level of less than perfect is acceptable and those who have to use the results of that choice. Rarely do those making the choice actually have to use the results of their choices on how much to invest in a solution.

    What often gets ignored is the tediousness or extra steps the user with a disability has to go through to use the end result of whatever is being developed. There tends to be a prevailing attitude that as long as the task can be accomplished, no matter how difficult the journey to completion, basic accessibility has been met so other factors like resources, budget and such mean little further investment happens.

  6. Pingback: Curb Cut » The Great Big List from the 2012 CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference

  7. OZ activist perspective
    No and YES
    NO pragmatic compromise especially at a local grass roots level can improve access when insisting on the highest professional standards could never be achieved. Example disability parking
    Our local council has agreed to considerably improve disability parking bay (DPB) access in our tight inner urban locality BUT not to the full oz standard.lrgal opinion stated that pragmatic amenity could supersede national standard. Councils disability action committeee 100% ppl with disability established committee to advise engineers on location and design. worked so well council has increased budget!

    Access on a wider scale needs to be uniform.
    Example time tabling versus indidual provision of accessible buses
    bus operators did deals with individual wheel chair uses ie you ring night b4 we will deliver accessible bus to your stop at time you require
    result a few PWD get great individualized deal. No one else gets anything. Took a lot to convince PWD that everyone knowing that every 4th bus was accessible was a better outcome

    Apologies in a hurry and blind

  8. The first step is the hardest.

    As for WCAG 2, it is not easy to meet even Level A which is the minimum requirements to be an accessible web content with a certain level of quality. In Japan, JIS X 8341-3:2010 (Japanese Industrial Standards) uses the same success criteria. I feel strongly that Level A conformance is not “minimum”. There may be different constraints as Karl already mentioned.

    One of the problems is that they tend to do nothing if they can’t meet all of Level A success criteria which is the lowest level of making conformance claim. However, making web content more accessible is not “all-or-nothing”. 20% or 30%, even if it is not 100%, would be better than zero. “20%” means that the web content was made more accessible to users than before.

    The conformance is important. The first step is much more important.

  9. Great post Henny. Looks like a really interesting session. I also think of a11y as a continuum (so I agree with Jared). And devs who try to make their stuff accessible are somewhere on that line. There is _always_ room for improvement but a11y isn’t binary, and that is one of the problems with approaches like automated assessment. There are many nuances to this discipline. Something I would say if I was at this session (but can’t make it this year) would be that what is very important in the mind of the end user is that the designer and developers are making a sincere effort. The problems start when the end user feels there is either intransigence or indifference and that creates a terrible impasse and bad feeling.

    If there is a genuine effort to accommodate the needs of PwD then to some degree the hard part of the job is already done.

  10. Thank you everyone for contributing both here at at the session last week. Joes Dolson did a great write up of the talk (linked to above), well worth a read.

    Ben Millard Reply:

    Unfortunately the link to Joe’s site at the end of your entry isn’t working. Looks like the href is missing the http:// part from the start.

    Ben Millard Reply:

    Erm, where did that Gravatar come from? LOL!

  11. Pingback: Should Accessibility be Perfect – session notes - Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design - Joe Dolson Accessible Web Design

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