Why Clients Don't Care About Accessibility

Source Title:
10 Reasons Clients Don't Care About Accessibility
Story Text:

Back when I did client work, there were several occasions where the clients eyes would just start to glaze over, the smile would become fixed, then strained. One of the triggers that bought on this painful reaction during a meeting was talk of accessibility. DigitalWeb's Christian Heilmann looks at 10 reasons clients just don't care about accessibility and if you've ever tried to sell the advantages of accessible design, you'll recognize what he's talking about.

I particularly empathised with:

  • There is no immediate benefit
  • Accessibility seems like a party pooper, and
  • Nobody complains

A good read, but it doesn't exactly through any solutions to this problem our way...


I agree entirely, it would

I agree entirely, it would be like charging to make it search engine friendly. If the site is "from scratch" there is just no excuse for a poor job...


Here in the UK, the Disabilities Discrimination Act came into full force at the end of last year, meaning that UK businesses with poor online accessibility could be liable for prosecution. I'd say that's an incentive for UK business to worry about accessibility.

EDIT: Curious - the article link brings up a blank page in Firefox, but works fine in IE. Is that just me, or is this some kind of accessibility in-joke?

The Odeon chain of cinema's

The Odeon chain of cinema's have had a fair bit of flack on that side of things as well. Not only inaccessible, but unusable by most non-IE browsers.
Can't remember the guys name now, and can't be bothered to find it, but he made an accessible version of the site, picking up their listing etc... a lot of people used it. Apparently too many people used it for Odeon's liking and they ended up sending him a cease and disist letter and made some PR comments about how they were supposedly working on an accessible version themselves. I'm sure that was at least a year ago and the sites still the same.

It is frustrating because the basics of accessibility are pretty easy to do really. Many decent designers are probably writing relatively accessible sites without even realising it, but so many other don't know and don't care.

The Odeon in Ipswich just

The Odeon in Ipswich just closed.... Guess they weren't selling enough tickets online

Show Me The Money

Consultants should concentrate on marketing accessibility and usability as business benefits, as opposed to design niceties.

Metrics, as opposed to abstract anecdotes, that prove how the client will get more money/more promotions/more recognition/more sex.

Disability Discrimination Act

In fact the Disability Discrimination Act was published in 1995, with a staged implementation. The last stage, in October 2004, relating to physical adjustments to premises, has nothing at all to do with the web. This hasn't prevented so-called 'web accessibility consultants' citing this date as the date all websites needed to be accessible by law!

As the DDA was written before the web gold rush, it doesn't actually address the internet at all. However, Part III of the act - not to be confused with the third stage of implementation - deals with the provision of goods and services. The closest it comes to mentioning the web is to cite:

(b) access to and use of means of communication;
(c) access to and use of information services;

as areas that that act applies to. If you believe that a website falls into either of these categories, then October 1999 is the important date:

"Since October 1999, service providers have had to consider making reasonable adjustments to the way they deliver their services so that disabled people can use them."

That's it for the act itself. Where things *may* be more clear is in the Disability Rights Commission's Code Of Practice. It states:

"The Code sets out our understanding of the law but there is undoubtedly some ambiguity and there are areas that will require testing in the courts."

While not a statement of law itself, the Code Of Practice is used to inform court decisions, so can't be ignored. This document specifically mentions "accessible websites" (to address both vision and hearing) and the following example:

"An airline company provides a flight reservation and booking service to the public on its website. This is a provision of a service and is subject to the Act."

I haven't been able to find any record of a UK court case relating to website accessibility, but I've heard rumours of plenty of sabre rattling from the Disability Rights Commission and the Royal National Institute For The Blind.

So does that mean that having an accessible website is a legal requirement in the UK? I honestly don't know, but I'd agree that you'd be daft if you didn't address accessibility in a new site build.


Accessibility = signal of

Accessibility = signal of quality?

Signal of quality?

To users or to search engines?

To users or to search engines?


I still have much to learn about accessible web design, but in my experience search engines respond positively to the sort of tweaks that are aimed at making a page come across better on an audible browser reader.

Flogging a Donkey

We have been flogging the accessibility donkey for a while now. Its one of the hardest things I have ever sold. Even when I tell site owners that by not having an accessible website you are locking out a market that has a high level of expendable income. They don't want hear it.
We released an article last year that was widely read in different quarters and we picked up a fair amount of work only based on the fact that accessible coding makes for good search engine rankings because of it being table-less and in divs blah blah, nobody wanted to know that it would open the web up to a bigger audience as this article explains:

I'll also add that by having a site that reaches accessible standards that with a few tweaks it will be also compliant with the mobile web.


Certainly there's a massive correlation between accessibility techniques and on-site SEO techniques. The same with usability IMHO.

However, I'm not wholly convinced that cutting down the code/content ratio - as intimated in Vinnie's advert ;) - has any *direct* effect on rankings.

As for using standards compliance as a measure of quality for search engines - it gets my vote.

Proofs in the Pudding

Proof is in the pudding my friend. I know this is an ongoing debate and have I given myself many migraines over it but we'll briefly cross it again. Look, you have a site let's say you have it built XHTML/CSS, no tables, all DIV work and bring it up to at least Level A.

First thing the code is going to be leaner; there is no doubt or argument in that respect. Then there is no tables that are blocking spidering, think about it a full run way through your entire site. Image placement and layout is controlled by CSS. What you ahve for search engine viewing is content, pure undulated content.

Next up on the list as described (in that ad ;-)) is reaching a broader audience with a high level of expendable income.

Thirdly (again) ready for mobile web, as it stands Google is indexing sites for the mobile web that are XHTML compliant. If you have an accessible website you are practically halfway there. Mobile web optimisation should now be considered in most online marketing plans.

I'm not meaning to turn this thread into an ad of what we can do but am highlighting issues on why accessibility should be considered and best way forward to selling it.

"Google is powerful, don't piss her off"

This is a great article. I send it to many new clients for them to read.

"Other people said 'Making your site look good in Lynx is like accessibility. I'm not selling to the blind so why should I go to the trouble of making my site accessible?' Why? Because the most powerful Internet force known to man visits your web pages like blind people and folks who use Lynx - Google."

I like pudding ...

... and I wouldn't argue with any of that (apart from the tables blocking spidering bit).

I agree; lean code - fantastic! Accessibility for mobile users - result!

The only thing I'm questioning is whether *just* reducing the proportion of code to content has a *direct* effect on rankings. That's all. Y'see, the majority of moves to CSS from tables - especially when accessibility's incorporated - achieve a lot more than just that. Content tends to be marked up semantically, title and alt attributes are used properly, images are swapped out for text or image replacement is used. Could it not just these type of changes that affect rankings? If you've tested *just* dropping extraneous code without the other changes, then fair enough. Otherwise I'll remain unconvinced. I'll still be producing lean, source-ordered markup though; because fast sites where the content loads first are a good thing ... and yes ... just because I can. :)

More pudding....

I know what you are saying and I’m in agreement. Look, the issue is still in the fire and there has been no absolute concrete proof. I keep meaning to run a few test but just have not had the time. Having said that I know Anthony Parsons ran some test, and it came back with no difference in spidering. I don’t think Anthony was convinced though and is running the test again. I'm not convinced either. We had a table’s site up for a long time, good rankings but nothing ground breaking. When we re-coded to XHTML/CSS DIV's things changed rapidly. It may be co-incidence it may not. I know one thing for sure that our site was twice as fast as it was before and can now be read by screen-readers and is cross browser perfect.


Given a choice between adding a feature/content/promotion and retro-fitting accessibility a lot of the time they choose to do other things. They cant always afford to throw away their site and start again. Another factor is it is not enough just to put the site through automated (such as bobby) tests. Automated tests do not prove a site is accessible, only that it has passed certain automated tests. How many people have actually had a variety of disabled people use a site and amended based on their feedback? Accessibility is not just about the blind and partially sighted, there are other disabilities. Clients who are serious about this tend to be serious about the other aspects of the site such as information architecture, seo and usability.

Not only have I never heard of a uk case taken to court, I do not personally know of any sites that have received *complaints* and believe me I have seen some corkers that are painful without disabilities. Many "your site doesn't work in safari/firefox/opera/etc", never once about disability discrimination.

I used to work at a college and would help people who got stuck for any reason. People in the uk in my experience are incredibly tenatious but rather than eventually complain give up and move on. I think it will take an organisation such as RNIB to actually get tough for this issue to move, until then I cant see anything happening.

Minorities add up to be a majority

Selling Accessibility is very hard on it's own - it needs to be part of the package of SEO, usability and quality programming. On it's own, people don't think they need it because they don't know any blind people. (Harsh, but true.)

The main selling point of accessibility is that an accessible site is accessible by any person, device, browser, bot or whatever. It's more than just screen readers and lynx, it's mobile devices, search engines and an ability to render to any user agent. By making the world bigger to the client, more people are in it, otherwise, all those people that are left out quickly add up.

On the other hand there are those companies that just don't care - just the other day I looked at mini.com and miniusa.com. They actually request that you turn off your pop-up blocker to use the site. It's just another example of companies that prefer style over substance, and it is usually a concious choice.

Thought-provoking math

Last winter the poster Victor shared some thought-provoking math in a WMW thread that started out talking about Netscape. http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum21/9687-3-10.htm (message #22)

Small potatoes can add up to big chips.

Think about a market where 10 competitors are close to equal on most factors. You'd expect each to take 10% of the sales.

But what if only one of them catered for the 2.2% of small potatoes?

They'd each take 10% of (100 - 2.2) = 9.78% of the market.

Except for the guy with the free run at the 2.2% who'd take 9.78 + 2.2 = 11.98%

That's nearly 20% better sales than the other 9 competitors.

Factor in similar small potatoes (the site that works well for the 5% of disabled users; the one that downloads in time to catch the 6% of [56.6KB or slower] modem users etc) and you are talking a major competitive advantage for a site that works well for the small percentages.

The Odeon

RE: The Odeon further up the thread, here's the page that was mentioned:


I've not visited any Odeon cinema since out of protest (well, there isn't one near to me either, but that's beside the point).

When I worked at Onetel I was put in charge of sorting out the accessibility of their site. I was the lead developer/online manager there, and I remember vividly an argument that I had with the person who had overall control of the site. It was near Christmas, and she wanted "snowflakes" falling down over the website for the Christmas holiday. I argued the point, said that it would go against the accessibility (as well as being a stupid idea) but was given an offical warning for refusing to code it. In the end they got someone else to code it but for technical reasons it never went on the site (thank god - but she was sure it would increase sales!).

Soon after this Website Accessibility because a Centrica group issue - meaning that all the sites of owned by the company had to meet certain guidelines; at the first board meeting for it they were pretty shocked to hear of my experience not long before.

I left with Onetel having very good accessibility and it was part of the testing process before realising ANY page onto the site - not long after I left they realised this press release:


It's great that some companies take Accessibility seriously, it's a pretty major issue in my mind.

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