The Challenge of Web Accessibility
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I’ve been thinking of the inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. quote and how much it has in common to web accessibility.
I don’t make this comparison lightly, but web accessibility is a serious social justice issue which has many parallels with the Civil Rights Movement which he led. People with disabilities are routinely barred from participating in public spaces, are limited in their economic and political opportunities and routinely discriminated against.
Legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has played a huge role in shaping accessibility for Ontarians. For instance, building code has been modified to a point where physical disabilities can navigate buildings. It has changed to make it harder to build or retrofit buildings without considering accessibility issues. This is a trend which eventually will see accessible buildings the norm rather than the exception.
AODA applies to communications technologies, just as it does to building codes. Websites are often built with software made of millions of lines of code, so it is important to keep website accessibility in mind. Drupal 8 Core at this point has nearly 750,000 lines of code behind it and most sites use many modules to extend this base. It is easy to change one line of code, but much more difficult when that software is driving more than one million sites.
Most people who have been responsible for implementing web accessibility guidelines have only been thinking of the public spaces. Surely those are the easiest for anyone to evaluate. Unfortunately, there are quite a few people with disabilities who are running into barriers with the regular office tools that all staff of organizations need to use on an ongoing basis. For instance, the many intranet sites which contain critical information about a company.
It is a matter of time before employees begin taking legal action against their employers because the tools provided for their staff are not accessible, as this CBC article is illustrates. There is a similar case that the National Federation of the Blind filed on behalf of an employee that could not do their job because the call center software was not accessible. This case will be heard by a jury, but regardless of which way it goes, I am sure that this is not the last time we will hear about the rights of staff to have an accessible workplace.
Web accessibility needs to be viewed as an ongoing challenge, rather than a one-time expense. Annual budgets need to go into both ensuring that the website meets it’s accessibility goals, but also that those goals are becoming more ambitious. With Drupal 8, this will be easier than ever for organizations to accomplish.
About The Author
Mike Gifford is the founder of OpenConcept Consulting Inc, which he started in 1999. Since then, he has been particularly active in developing and extending open source content management systems to allow people to get closer to their content. Before starting OpenConcept, Mike had worked for a number of national NGOs including Oxfam Canada and Friends of the Earth.