A Small Victory

I frequently email website owners when they fail to conform to w3c standards. It’s particularly a problem when the site doesn’t work at all with browsers other than Internet Explorer, since that’s not an option for me. I usually don’t expect any concrete results, but once in a while I get lucky.

Here’s a note I received from the very large online legal research company, Lexis-Nexis. Amazingly, they responded to my feedback within 24 hours:

 Dear Mr. Kessel: Thank you for sharing your input regarding lexis.com. We truly appreciate your valuable feedback. Due to notes such as yours, we have decided to comply with your request. We anticipate this change will be made within a month. Thank you again for sharing your comments and suggestions. Regards, lexis.com Product Development -----Original Message----- From: Support Mailbox [mailto:support@prod.lexis-nexis.com] Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 4:34 PM To: research@lexisnexis.com Subject: Feedback for LexisNexis(TM) at lexis.com Date: 2/19/2003 4:33:44 PM From: Adam Kessel Email: kessel.a@neu.edu Company: Northeastern University Law School Phone: 617-xxx-xxxx Feedback: I am unable to click on any of the "tabs" with my web browser (Mozilla). Your HTML code violates w3c standards, and for no purpose! You have  anchor tags outside of your  columns tags, and they could just as well go *inside* the  and then (at least that small piece of code) would comply with web standards, and it would work with more web browsers. As things stand now, I've developed a filter that replaces all the tags so I can actually click on the tabs. Westlaw presents no such problems, though, so I am considering switching to their service. If I can be of any assistance in further clarifying or remedying this problem, please let me know. Mozilla has been downloaded millions of times, and there's no good reason not to support it, even if you don't do so officially. 

Accessibility Now

It’s important for websites to be accessible for people with disabilities. A lot of people just don’t “get it”, though. “Why bother making a website readable by the blind when there are so few of them, and they’re unlikely to visit my site anyway?” There are many responses to this question, but there’s one in particular that I think needs more attention.

Millions of people together build the Internet. Even an incorrigible techopessimist can’t deny that electronic networks permeate society, and that we’ve likely only seen the tip of the iceberg. We’re making a lot of important choices now, sometimes without much thought.

It’s a lot easier to get things right the first time, rather than try to retrofit a solution later after you’ve screwed up. If we make the web accessible today, as we’re building it essentially from scratch, we won’t incur prohibitive costs in the future fixing all the mistakes we made. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t yet apply to websites, there’s a good chance that it someday will. Or at least that it ought to.

So let’s build things right from the start. The Internet was originally a text-based medium which opened up fantastic new possibilities for people with disabilities. These possibilities are being foreclosed by short-sighted “computer people” who are creating websites and services that ignore smaller audiences.

Besides, accessible websites tend to be better organized and have superior interfaces for the non-disabled as well. They tell you that the designer took care. They are also easier for search engines to index and comprehend, creating a richer informational resource for all of us.