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Design Accessible Web Sites: 36 Keys to Creating Content for All Audiences and Platforms

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It was a dark and stormy night...

Actually, It was a late summer afternoon a little over ten years ago when I first began to get accessibility. Back then, I was working as a student web developer and sysadmin and we needed a system for a blind user to work on a paper. Simple enough—we had some new systems. Just grab one, install it, add the specialized software and we’re done. I was fairly happy about the job—it was my first time through this kind of configuration and I finished with plenty of time so I added on nicer (I thought) speakers and keyboard.

Our user came in and started to use the system—or at least tried to use the system. Everything started to fall apart. The keyboard was one of the newer (at the time) ergonomic keyboards, which the user had never worked with. The speakers were an even bigger problem. They came out of the box set to a low volume and I hadn’t thought to set them high so they could be controlled from software. The user’s began to panic when the interface to the system was completely disrupted. Two decisions that wouldn’t have usually been a problem turned the afternoon into a disaster.

Of course, the real problem was human, not technological. My mistake was in my assumption about how people use computers which, of course, was how I used a computer. I knew that blind users needed to use special software on their computers, but I didn’t consider the real difference in user experience. Later that evening, I got curious about my web sites—seeing how much difference something as simple as a different keyboard could make, how would my sites behave for users with screen readers instead of monitors and keyboards but not mice?
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