Accessibility is more than access for all

I’m in London visiting friends for a couple of weeks and, predictably enough, took them to see West End production of Hamilton the Musical. Unfortunately one of my friend’s health has deteriorated over the last few years so queuing for entry to the theatre is a problem. We needed an access ticket.

This doesn’t feel like an access ticket, it feels like a VIP ticket.

I emailed the theatre our request and soon after had confirmed tickets. This slight friction is a necessity to prevent abuse of the system. We were told an access concierge would meet us in-front of the theatre.

As promised, on the night we introduced ourselves to an access concierge and he immediately showed us to our seats. During the night, he checked in with my friend a few times to see if she had everything she required. In short, he relieved us of the anxiety we had going in.

The theatre did not simply provide access, instead they provided equal access for all. There’s no queue for people physically unable to queue; there’s a staff member on hand to offer assistance for people needing it; there’s systems in place to prevent abuse. None of this happens without the full support of the theatre, the producers and their collective staff members. Basically everyone in the room.

Equal access for all on the web

Web designers and developers reflect the world, in that we are prodemently able bodied and do not require screen readers, can use a variety of input devices, and we see content as it is visually represented on screen.

As a result, accessibility often becomes an afterthought. We build a feature in such a way that it makes sense to us, can be used by us on our touch screens and with our mouses. We move fast and break things.

If time and budget allows, we might go back and think about accessibility later. Add in a few ARIA attributes to improve accessibility for screen readers.

This presents a problem, accessibility becomes an afterthought. The reason Hamilton West End blew us all away was because they treated access as a first class citizen, to provide equal access for all on the web, we need to do the same.

To provide equal access for all on the web requires the support of everyone involved, client stakeholders, sales staff, content strategists, startup founders, designers and developers. Everyone.

Code, content and design are the backbone to accessibility, but to truly build a website providing equal access to all requires advocacy within your organisation.

By Peter Wilson

Peter has worked on the web for twenty years on everything from table based layouts in the 90s to enterprise grade CMS development. Peter’s a big fan of musical theatre and often encourages his industry colleagues to join him for a show or two in New York or in the West End.

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