The KUOW podcast featuring Wendy Chisolm was surprisingly interesting and easy to follow. My learning style is more visual, so I often find it hard to pay attention to podcasts or retain information from them. One obvious accessibility disadvantage to this podcast was the fact that there was no transcribed version to read. And if there was a written version, it was in an inaccessible place. During the podcast, Wendy brings up the Seattle Metro Transit website as one of her main examples of inaccessibility. I wholeheartedly agree that the website is completely inaccessible, even to someone with no physical, hearing, or vision impairments. One would think that a transit website for a city that relies heavily on buses would be top-of-the-line, and one would be wrong. The website is hard to navigate by sight, and even harder to understand via screen reader. A much more appropriate website for the job, and one that I rely on heavily, is One Bus Away, a website built by a grad student at the University of Washington (http://www.onebusaway.org/). The website is simple, clean, and informative. It is accessible by phone (the Seattle Metro website is not), and would be easy for a screen reader to comprehend.
Wendy stated that one of three (but preferably all) things needed to happen in order for web content to become more accessible. One, technical accessibility needs to be automatically built in. Two, there needs to be a cultural shift in the way people consider people with disabilities. Finally, people with disabilities need to be included in the creation of web content. Being someone fortunate enough to have decent vision and hearing, I have no idea what it is like to have trouble accessing web content. When I was first learning web design I designed my pages with no consideration for the disabled. I ignored alt tags, relied on images, and focused on appearance rather than content. Once I had a web accessibility class, however, I began to realize that some of the websites I had once found boring were actually functional, and function was much more important that aesthetic pleasure. One of the tools that can be used to check web accessibility is the WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool). Located at http://wave.webaim.org/, the WAVE allows the user to upload an url or input html, and then tells them if the page is compliant with web accessibility standards. The free program also comes in a handy firefox toolbar, so there is no excuse for building inaccessible websites. I don’t personally know anyone who has a disability that would affect their ability to find information on the web, but it would be ignorant of me to design without them in mind. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 49.7 million people in America with disabilities. They have the same right to information and those without disabilities, yet they are systematically ignored.
Going back to the Seattle Metro example, one thing I have noticed is that bus stops themselves are inaccessible. The times for buses are located behind a plastic sheet, and would be impossible for a blind person to make any use of. Considering the fact that the Seattle Metro website is also challenging to navigate, I am amazed that vision-impaired Seattleites can get around at all on public transportation. I think that there should at least be a voice-activated phone system to guide people around bus schedules, as braille on every bus stop sign would be impractical due to constant changes in bus times and routes.
Web accessibility is something that needs to be considered heavily in the future, as it appears to have fallen off the radar since the 2000s began. Considering the amount of people in the United States that have disabilities, it is imperative that their needs be met, in order to support equality.
Ferris, Brian. (2010). One bus away. Retrieved from http://www.onebusaway.org/
United states department of labor. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/ODEP/FAQS/people.htm
WebAIM. (2010). Wave. Retrieved from http://wave.webaim.org/