Mike Gifford of Open Concept: the Importance of Accessibility

Mike Gifford, founder and president of Open Concept, a web development firm specializing in open source development with Drupal, AND recognized expert on accessibility, shares his valuable insights on this important but often minimized subject.
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Mike Gifford

Founder and President, OpenConcept

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What is web accessibility?

Why is accessibility routinely ignored in website planning and development?

Why is accessibility important given the steady rise of seniors using the web?

What are the legal ramifications of ignoring accessibility?


JONATHAN FREED: Hello! You’re listening to a TEN7 Audiocast. We are here today to discuss website accessibility. I’m Jonathan Freed, and I am here with Ivan Stegic, founder and president of TEN7. And joining us today from Ottawa, Canada is our special guest, Mike Gifford, founder and president of Open Concept, a web development firm specializing in open source development with Drupal. Thank you for joining us today! We certainly appreciate it! Mike, for those who aren’t familiar with the industry term  “Accessibility”, would you please explain what it means to you?

MIKE GIFFORD: So, Accessibility is the framework that is defined by the world wide web consortium called “POUR” or Perceive, Operate, Understand, and Robust, which basically means that website’s can be perceived, you can understand them, you can operate them, that you would be able to interact with the forms, that you are able to understand that information, and that you’re also be able to do that under robust circumstances. It’s especially difficult for people who have disabilities - so people who are blind, the deaf population, people who have mobility issues, people who are dealing with color blindness or with issues of even temporary disabilities.

IVAN STEGIC: It seems to me like “Accessibility” is usually the last thing that anyone ever thinks about when we think about a website. Why do you think that is, and how could we upgrade that status?

MIKE: Accessibility is often, if you’re lucky in an RFP or a contract and is sort of seen as a checkbox. It’s something that people need to have for contractual purposes but most of the vendors don’t really understand web accessibility, and they don’t know how to evaluate it, and they assume that the vendor will just build that in there. Very few web development vendors who are thinking pro-actively about how to organize their projects to see that accessibility is built into them. What’s driving clients is a flashy proposal and a sharp-looking website that matches whatever is hot in web design this particular week. Then a lot of the other stuff is going to be forgotten, whether that’s security, whether that’s performance, or accessibility, because of the pressure from clients to pursue sites that are often more form than that they are a substance. Accessibility is part that structural functionality that really needs to be thought in a project and built into it, just like security is. So that you’re not trying to go off and and leave it to the last minute. Most of the time that is too late. There isn’t much you can do to go off and improve the accessibility of a project once you’re a week or two prior to launching the site.

JONATHAN: It's a fact that more and more seniors are starting to use the web at a greater number than ever before.

MIKE: I think that there's a lot of misconceptions about seniors in the web. I think that a lot of seniors are using the web for all kinds of things, not just online shopping and Facebook. Being involved in their local community or finding out what's happening in their grand kids' schools. Seniors now are including the baby boomer population. It doesn't make any sense to exclude a portion of the population that is the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful branch of them.

JONATHAN: Tell us about the risks of ignoring accessibility issues particularly in the United States.

MIKE: There's always a risk of just excluding a portion of your user base. The US is a very litigious culture and there's been a movement to last a year or two to pursue because of the change in how the Americans with Disability Act is being interpreted by the Department of Justice. Right now, all organizations that need to meet the ADA, or the Americans with Disability Act, need to have their websites be WCAG 2.0 AA Compliant. Things like, you're supposed to have your site work without Javascript. That was useful in ‘97, it's really not useful now. But there's a lot of changes between Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 AA. I think hundreds of organizations that have been sued in the last 2-3 years. We need to make sure that the organizations are aware of that and also see that they're working on progressively making their websites more accessible, and take some measures to see that they’re reducing their risks going forward.

IVAN: I just wanted to say an extra special thanks to our Canadian Wonder Accessible Guru, Mike Gifford.

MIKE: Happy to have a chance to talk more about this with you and TEN7 community.

JONATHAN: Well that brings us to the end of this audiocast and I would like to thank Mike Gifford and Ivan Stegic for sharing their insights. Please visit us at TEN7.com and keep an eye out on the TEN7 blog for future Audiocasts. This is Jonathan Freed and thank you for listening.

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