First, let me give highlights of the twitter conversation, so people who haven’t seen it can see what I’m addressing. It started by Michael Koziarski (@nzkoz) saying:
Don Christie (@normnz) suggested that before making those claims, @nzkoz should check US accessibility regulations.
you’ll note that I, like you, reside in another country ;). Also screw screen readers if they can’t handle 15 year old tech
@normnz rightly pointed out that their software has to work in the US, even though the company is not based in the US.
Not Even Them
I wonder what @nzkoz meant by "not even them". It is easy to assume that by "them", he means "people with disabilities". Surely he isn’t one of "those" people who still think in terms of "us and them". You know… "I have nothing against ‘them’, but I wouldn’t want ‘them’ living next door". Or… "I have nothing against ‘them’, but I can’t be bothered making my website inclusive". I chose to believe this is a case of poor wording choice on his part.
Screw Screen Readers
Now that can’t be left to interpretation. It’s quite a clear statement. The thing is, if you don’t cater to screenreader applications, it’s not the screenreader application you’re screwing, it’s the USER.
Saying "screw screen readers" is a bit like saying "screw IE6". We all rant and rave against Internet Explorer, and many of us have abandonned support for IE6 altogether. Fair enough. But it’s not Microsoft we’re punishing by not supporting IE6 – it’s those poor saps that are still using it. And there are still a LOT of people using IE6 (5 months old stats). Maybe they aren’t your primary market, but how can you be sure?
Remember this: Making websites more accessible and more inclusive is not about the software, it’s about the USER. You want your user to be able to access your content.
And since accessibility is not just about screen readers, you also have to consider keyboard accessibility in your scripting.
In this day and age, software and website developers cannot develop just for their own little corner of the world. We live in a global market. Your servers might be based in New Zealand, half your developers might be working out of India, some in Europe, some in the US. Your clients will be based all over the world. You must abide by local regulations. Yes, it means that even if you don’t live in the US, it’s a good idea to meet US accessibility regulations.
But then, there are accessibility requirements in many countries in the world, not just the US. Canada and the United Kingdom are two significant English speaking countries. Oh, yeah, Australia as well (remember the Sydney Olympics website debacle?). Let’s not forget that even little old New Zealand has this thing called the Human Rights Act 1993 – so, ok, the Human Rights Act doesn’t specifically say "make your websites accessible", but it does mention the idea that we shouldn’t discriminate against people. Knowingly implementing technologies that create barriers to a group of people is discrimination. And if your application is destined for use by the NZ government, then you have to contend with the e-government standards.
But It’s Not (just) About The Law
In the end though, the legal argument is not one I like to use. It’s there, and we have to consider it, but we should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – not because we’re forced to do it. And if that’s not good reason enough, then we should consider the financial aspect of it.
Progressive Enhancement vs Graceful Degradation
Wrapping It Up
There are legal reasons to build accessible / inclusive websites throughout the world, as well as financial reasons.
How about you? Are you as disappointed as I am to still encounter those attitudes? Those developers that point blank say "screw you"? How can we help them change their thinking?