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Michael Smith: I am speaking with John Hamman about his talk "Become an accessibility expert in 50 minutes" at CFUN-04. Why should programmers care about Accessiblity, John?
John Hamman: Unfortunately we can't afford not to. Currently a large block of potential Internet users are left out because of a lack of accessibility to the web. Plus the number is quickly growing.
MS: Can you give me any specific statistics on that?
JH: Sure, and I find these statistics shocking. 17% (21.9 million) of computer users have a mild visual difficulty or impairment, and 9% (11.1 million) of computer users have a severe visual difficulty or impairment. 19% (24.4 million) of computer users have a mild dexterity difficulty or impairment, and 5% (6.8 million) of computer users have a severe dexterity difficulty or impairment. 18% (24.0 million) of computer users have a mild hearing difficulty or impairment, and 2% (2.5 million) of computer users have a severe hearing difficulty or impairment.
MS: That is a lot of people, but just to play devil's advocate, why do they matter to web developers?
JH: These people are our customers and clients online! These are not small numbers. Plus to add to that, imagine what it will be like in a few years when the Baby-boomers have hit the older age bracket. With that age bracket come disabilities, like hearing loss, sight loss, dexterity loss, etc... They are currently the majority of our population. We have to adhere to them. People forget that accessibility is not just for a blind person, but also for colorblindness, Cognitive disabilities, Hearing problems, Sight problems, Arthritis, and the list goes on and on. Amazingly the last US Census showed 1 out of every 5 Americans have some form of disability! That's a huge number. With numbers like this we have to make it a part of our programming and design to pay attention to this.
MS: Is there any other reason to code for accessibility than the numbers of lost users?
JH: Personally, I feel this is part of being a good programmer. When you program a site, usability has to be an issue. But I feel that accessibility is just another extension of usability. We need to make sure this gets done. But finally, consider this possibility. Your company builds a site for an online merchant. The site was built without accessibility. Along comes a disabled user who finds he or she cannot use the site, and this site would have been a better alternative to the other non-online solutions. They decide to sue the company for discrimination of the disabled. Now, the question is, are you also responsible if you did not advise the client to do this? I personally cannot answer that, but definitely would not want to be put in those shoes.
MS: OK, I am convinced that I need to code for accessibility. How long will it take me to learn the basics?
JH: Hopefully only 50 minutes! Accessibility can be complex, but I feel you will walk away from this with a professional understanding of the problem and issues related to accessibility and how to implement them.
MS: Cool! I will look forward to your talk.