Web Accessibility: Is Your Content Ready for Everyone?

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Making a website accessible does not necessarily have a high price tag. "It is no different than any other design element that you're doing when you're designing a website," says Donna Danielewski, director of The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), a research and development unit of the Boston public broadcaster WGBH. "Having someone who knows how to make the appropriate adjustments to factor in accessibility is a marginal increase [in cost]."

There also can be outlays associated with creating alternative formats, such as transcripts of videos that convey the spoken word and, possibly, descriptions of scenes. But for companies that make captioning a best practice, this kind of expense can become just another line item alongside talent and equipment fees, says Sarah Horton, director of accessible user experience and design at the consultancy The Paciello Group. Retrofitting for accessibility is often what costs publishers larger chunks of money and time. "You can take a couple extra hours at the beginning or you can spend 40 or 50 hours at the end once the users say, ‘Guess what? We can't use this,'" says James-Tanny. Say, for instance, a website has 100 images that don't have alternate text. "Instead of taking a minute during the development of the content [to write descriptions], ... now you have to go back and rethink the whole thing, and your 1 minute just became 5," she says.


Meanwhile, accessibility needs to be supported by everyone involved with a website, Horton says, and it starts from the top. "The biggest challenge for publishers is change-making a commitment, and then changing culture and practice to support best practices for accessibility," she says. "It's about making a strong commitment to accessibility as a quality attribute-like good grammar-and then building capacity within the organization to support it."

Evangelists are key to generating consciousness about accessibility that can spread across departments, Fisher says. His own evangelism was fueled when he started doing testing for the redesign of nytimes.com, which launched in January, he says. The developer observed about a dozen people with different disabilities trying to read articles. "It was really difficult to watch because we want to make this as easy as possible, and to see them have to struggle to try to just read an article was really painful to me," he says.

The site isn't completely accessible yet, but those involved with it are focusing more on accessibility, especially for screen readers. Fisher is seeing internal changes that point to an increasing commitment to the concept. For instance, he says, someone in the product department may have an idea about an accessibility feature, which then is integrated into the design by a designer. Then, it is translated to code and tested by a developer, before being tested by someone in quality assurance.

Fisher is also planning to a launch a page on the site that will bring awareness of the company's accessibility efforts and will make it easy for readers to offer feedback on problems they encounter. He says, "Users with disabilities are part of our audience, and we are passionate about getting our content to as many readers as we can." 

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To be sure, the real-time captions that appeared on the Facebook Live feed were frequently incomprehensible, which couldn't be anything but awkward when more than 75 thousand viewers were watching Zuckerberg's speech, on Zuckerberg's platform, in real time. You can bet there were executives at Facebook's headquarters whose faces were turning that particular shade of red known as Harvard crimson.