It appears my previous post about the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation being "Flash only" made a lot of noise, and upset people. I had been planning to write a follow-up post. A recent post on Darrel Shandrow’s blog prompts me to write this follow-up faster than planned!
Before going further, I must point out that the NBCF site was not specifically targetted. While their site was handy as an example, I had hoped that people would see it as an example of a common issue, rather than a direct attack on the foundation.
Darrel Shandrow’s post uses some quotes from my site, from the Executive Director of the NBCF, and from Michael McCarty on Twitter. He basically shares the position that the lack of access of the site is innapropriate.
Michael McCarty goes as far as suggesting that organisations working for "the blind" should not have websites at all rather than non-accessible websites. This is a radical position which I can understand, to a point. Why should anyone have access to a website if our brothers & sisters with sight issues can’t get to it? It wouldn’t be that different from a wheelchair user protesting in front of a non-accessible doctor’s office for them to put a ramp up, blocking everyone’s access until such time there is a ramp.
Going back to the specific case of the NBCF site. I asked Jonathan Mosen, a well-known individual in vision accessibility circles, what he thought of the site. He agreed that Flash was not really the most accessible technology, but that he had been able to fully navigate and use the foundation’s site with Jaws. And so it appears that some efforts were made in the building of the Flash site to allow screenreader users to use the site. I think it is important to outline this.
I can’t help asking myself if Jonathan is a good representative of "screenreaders" at large. He is an expert screenreader user, he is technology minded. He is not "Joe Q Public". I say this not to be negative about him. I am just pointing out that because he was able to use the site, it doesn’t mean the site is accessible. Just like me being able to squeeze myself sideways and hop my wheelchair through a narrow door doesn’t mean the door is accessible. This is why there are accessibility standards out there, whether they be for physical structures or websites. The standards might not be ideal, but they allow us to avoid the trap where accessibility (or lack thereof), is determined by one individual. It is no more fair to declare something accessible because you are able to "squeeze" through than it would be to declare it non-accessible because of the inability of one person to use the building or website.
Darrell Shandrow quotes Lori Moroz-White, the Executive Director of the NBCF:
“Thank you for being the ‘accessibility police’. I have been aware that our website is inaccessible, and have been concerned, and when funding becomes available to change this, it will be changed. For now, in my opinion it is better to have an inaccessible website, than not to have one at all.”
I do not know where this statement from Mrs. Moroz-White comes from. I am glad that she is aware of the lack of access to the site. I am also happy to hear that they plan to improve the website’s accessibility when funding becomes available.
I could argue that their site as it is is actually doing them no favours at all. Because it is Flash based, the site will not rank well at all in search engines. From an SEO point of view, the site may as well not exist. But I won’t go into this debate, it isn’t the time nor the place.
As for the sarcastic comment about being the ‘accessibility police’, I do apologise if Mrs Moroz-White feels offended by my original post. I assure everyone, I do not spend my time looking for innaccessible websites. I am not the "police". I am, however, a person with a disability, and an advocate for disability access. When I come across a site (or a building) that strikes me as innapropriate, I talk about it.
So, from Mrs Moroz-White quote, the only thing stopping the Nevada Blind Children Foundation’s site from being redone so it is accessible is funding. I am making this proposition to them:
If the Nevada Blind Children Foundation wants, I will build an accessible website for them, at no cost to them.
I will use free and open source software available on the internet to do so. I will use a free and open source website design, which will be slightly customised for the NBCF. I will use the content currently available (as at 18 June 2009) on their website to populate the new site. I will provide all the files to the foundation for them to upload on their servers, or, if access is provided to their webhosting server, will do the install myself. Again, at no cost to them. If a graphics designer is willing to donate their services, I will work with them to create a fully customised look for the foundation.
So, how about that?