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Re: multimedia accessibility a specialist skillset?

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From: John Foliot - Stanford Online Accessibility Program
Date: Dec 14, 2006 12:18PM


Tim Harshbarger wrote:
>
> I think most of the time the issue that still creates the most
> problems is the perception that "we don't have any users with
> disabilities" or "people using screen readers don't use our site." I
> find if I can get people beyond this point to understand the real
> impact of accessibility, the accessibility issues are not any more
> challenging than any other technical issues that need to be resolved
> in order to create a good quality site or application.

I would have to agree with Tim here whole-heartedly. In my current position
roughly half my time is spent in "outreach and education", helping people
understand the entire ramifications of what "accessible web design" really
means, and why it should matter to them. Having been involved in the web
accessibility field for quite some time now, I am happy to see that the
over-all awareness and general understanding of many of the issues has grown
exponentially - people "get it" now, although they sometimes don't
understand how it can benefit them entirely. To echo John Brandt, for some
it is simply a legal requirement, but even then, I am seeing an
understanding and agreement as to *why* it is a legal requirement. Then
when I layer on the social, business and technological reasons why
accessible design is important, most people are sold. (Disclaimer - in my
former life I *was* a salesman <grin>)

However, at the same time, there still exists a need to help developers
beyond the initial awareness phase. Tim is right, once you learn and
understand, continuing in that track is relatively easy. But oft time
getting into that track requires additional experience and expertise, which
currently is still in short supply. So to bring this back to one of the
initial questions in the thread: Wendy asked, "Is the development of
accessible rich media including flash, video
and audio appropriately considered a specialist skillset?" I would have to
say that in December, 2006, yes, the numbers would suggest that it is still
a specialist skillset, and that it may remain that way for a fair time
still.

I believe that at some levels, enterprise class web-development will always
remain a specialist skillset, as is the writing of screen plays, working in
the field of microbiology, or being a Class "A" auto-mechanic. I think a
better question to be asking is: "Will non-specialist tools for general
on-line content creation evolve to incorporate features to address
accessibility requirements?" coupled with "Will non-specialist creators
adopt these tools and practices?". Many of the tools have, or are, getting
much more sophisticated in this regard, and I would single out Adobe (as
well as the tools from the former macromedia) as one company who have
embraced these goals from both the legal requirement *and* desire to "do the
right thing" perspective. (And in fairness, there are others - IBM is
another company who are "in") But as these tools evolve, Tim's point of
making people aware of the issues, coupled with teaching them how the
emerging tools facilitate these goals will remain our biggest challenge.

Just another $0.02

JF