Yesterday, I had the good fortune to sit in with the King County Information Technology management and representatives from the Blind, Deaf, and Deaf-Blind communities to discuss web accessibility.
Back story: The county website use to be very accessible, but got redesigned. This issue came to the attention of Councilman Upthegrove, whose father is now legally blind. A few months ago, Councilman Upthegrove called a hearing where people testified about challenges. The website was a common theme.
I was unsure how this initial meeting would be productive. We were asked to bring suggestions to make the site accessible. Ask 40 different people and you get 40 different answers.
We were asked if there was a state website that serves as a good example of accessibility. No. The State of Washington is tackling the same issue. At the time of this post, their own employees cannot access basic information using screen reading software.
Note that public servants genuinely desire to do the right thing. This is a learning curve that is being addressed across the country.
Thank God we had a seasoned accessibility consultant in the crew to steer conversation toward the best resources and a plan. Below are some of the take aways.
1) The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are online.
2) WebAIM offers a checklist: http://webaim.org/standards/wcag/checklist
3) The County needs to develop a broad strategy. What areas are priorities? What areas are low-hinging fruit?
4) Then the County should consider hiring an accessibility consultant because this project needs to be done right and ensure that accessibility becomes policy.
5) When the County gets to the testing phase, please consider paying people for their time. The people who came to this meeting already volunteer much of their time.
Accessibility policy will make King County a better place to live and benefit everyone who uses the website. When Major League Baseball made their sites accessible, their web designers discovered that it can improve SEO and made them look cutting edge rather than retro. Web designers need us.