My Live Interview on CBC Radio One for Global Accessibility Awareness Day

This morning I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Marcy Markusa of CBC Radio One broadcasting from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The interview is included in .mp3 format, and the transcript is below.

MARCY:
It is 6:13, it is school day number 2, and today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. And if you’re like most people in this technological world, you’re starting your day on a mobile device, I’ve already been on three myself, but not everyone has equal access to what’s on the web. It is because even the most user-friendly websites are rarely accessible websites.

Alison Walden is with SapientNitro, a digital marketing agency, and she’s here now to spread the word about the benefits of an accessible website. Good morning.

ALISON:
Good morning.

MARCY:
So what’s the difference between “user-friendly” and “accessible” when it comes to a website?

ALISON:
Well, ideally they would be one and the same, but what we find out is that many websites are user-friendly for people who are sighted and can use a mouse to point at things on the website, but it’s much rarer to find a website where someone is able to work it with their keyboard, and that’s essential for making a website work with a screen reader for someone who is non-sighted.

MARCY:
So mostly websites that are celebrated for being user-friendly, they’re celebrated for ease of navigating through content, but not actual accessibility, if somebody can’t even get on the website, is what you’re saying.

ALISON:
Absolutely, that’s what we find.

MARCY:
Can you give us some examples of, you know, how simple it can be to make a website accessible?

ALISON:
Absolutely. It really is just a matter of inserting an accessibility review into each phase of the design process, so have a designer design the website, and then just have someone think about it from a linear perspective: How would someone walk through this website, one piece at a time?

And if you’re a person who has a website, and you’re wondering, what are some easy things that I could do to make it accessible, try using it with your keyboard. I find that that’s really the main helper that will make the most difference to someone using a screen reader. If you can make your website work with a keyboard the same way that it works with a mouse, so that means, I can navigate through the forms, I can fill out the forms and submit them with just my keyboard, that’ll be a great first step to making your website accessible.

MARCY:
How difficult is it to make a website accessible after it has been developed?

ALISON:
It’s much more difficult to develop it first and design it first without thinking about accessibility, and then try and insert it at the last minute. It’s a lot easier to think of it from the first steps, and then it naturally can flow into the process. Then it’s much cheaper in the long run, and it’s a better experience as well.

MARCY:
I understand you have a list of the most costly fixes if someone is trying to do it at the back end.

ALISON:
I do. I call it “The Top 5 Most Costly Accessibility Issues” and these are the ones where, if you don’t think about accessibility up front, these five things will cost the most to add in later.

So, the first one is keyboard accessibility, so I’ve already mentioned that. The second is the heading structure. So if you picture a web page, usually it has a series of headings on the page. Sometimes those headings, they just look like headings, but they haven’t been marked up by a developer to actually represent a heading in the code, and that’s very important because a screen reader needs to understand that it’s a heading otherwise it won’t be able to list the headings for non-sighted users so if someone has done that the wrong way, it takes a lot of time and effort to fix it.

Another one is form submissions. So, the first part of that is actually building the form to be accessible in the first place so that I understand what all the fields are for, and they have proper labels. But the second part is, if I’ve filled out the form and submit it, if there’s an error message that needs to be captured by the screen reader, and very many times you’ll notice that a sighted user will see a glaring red error. But if I’m a non-sighted user and I can’t see that error, it’s never announced by the screen reader.

And then the last one is tabular data. I work with many banking sites, and a lot of tabular data is found on a banking site, tables of data, and if that’s not marked up properly with the column headers and row headers, marked up a certain way again in the code, then the screen reader won’t be able to analyze what each cell content actually means, and it won’t make any sense for someone who’s trying to navigate with their screen reader.

MARCY:
How important is it to make accessibility mandatory in website design?

ALISON:
I think it’s absolutely very important to make it mandatory by law because what I’ve found is although I’ve been doing this for ten years, when I first heard about it back in 2005, I thought, oh, here are some skills that I’ll pick up, but you know, this is just going to get adopted by everyone, and then it’s not even going to be a thing anymore. And here it is, ten years later, and I’m still struggling often to communicate the value of this and the necessity of this.

However, if you look in the United States where it’s becoming mandated by the Department of Justice, depending which industry you’re in, you can see that there is change happening in those industries, and it’s change that needs to happen, and if it needs to have a law associated with it to make it happen, then great, let’s mandate it by law.

MARCY:
We’ll leave it there, Alison. Thank you for your time this morning. I know that during the election here, we had a provincial election recently, and there was an accessibility forum and debate, specifically about issues, and I keep mentioning it on the air because it was astonishing but like some 700 people took part, both in the room and online. Like, extremely high interest in finally, as you’re saying, trying to change things for people.

ALISON:
Yes, absolutely. There’s a myth that it’s a minority of users, but the reality is that there are as many people who are blind or who have low-vision issues in the United States as the entire population of Canada that’s surfing the internet, so it’s very significant.

MARCY:
Thanks for your time.

ALISON:
Thank you.

MARCY:
That’s Alison Walden, she’s a Senior Manager of Experience Technology at SapientNitro.

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