Unintentionally Blank

Phil Nash on the Internet, Web Standards and Accessibility

Don't Overdo Accessibility!

Jan 14, 2008

by Phil Nash

A warning, accessibility, while wonderful, is not the be all and end all of all things web. Brian Kelly of UK Web Focus made that point in a post today using Second Life as an example.

Second Life is a virtual world in which residents can walk around and interact with others. Being primarily a graphical program, visually impaired users may find it difficult or impossible to use. Brian alludes to the idea that institutions may be developing policies that would prevent use of digital resources, like Second Life, because they don't comply fully with accessibility guidelines.

Just Because Some People Can't Use Something Doesn't Mean No-one Should Use It!

While Second Life may not be the ideal application for certain users, it can actually enhance the lives of others. The particular example Brian points out is Judith, a user suffering with cerebral palsy, who uses Second Life. Please see the YouTube clip of an interview with Judith below the post (or the transcript of the video here). When asked whether she thinks Second Life is a useful tool for those who have mobility problems in real life she answers, "Yes, because you can have friends without having to go out and physically find them".

To ban something like this because other users are unable to use it to the full potential or, even worse, because it fails to comply with accessibility guidelines, is ridiculous. To take another example, rich internet applications like Google Docs do not work without JavaScript enabled as all the advanced functionality is provided by the script. No-one would consider banning Google Docs for not catering to those who have JavaScript disabled because the benefit to those who can use it far outweighs the downside to those who can't.

Of course, we should always attempt to use the technology available to make such applications as accessible as possible, the first commenter on Brian's post mentions some initiatives to provide systems in Second Life for blind users. There is a limit, however, and when it is reached an application should be seen for the benefits it provides, not the just users it alienates.

Thanks to Brian for the excellent post, the video "Wheeling In Second Life" can be viewed below.

Wheeling In Second Life

If you can read this, either your browser cannot play Flash files or you need to click through to the article to see the clip.

Unintentionally Blank is Phil Nash's thoughts on web development from 2006-2008. Any code or opinions may be out of date.