Foreword by Molly E. Holzschlag

The Challenge of Accessibility

When Tim Berners-Lee created the Web, he had some very specific goals in mind. Certainly, creating a technology that allowed the sharing of information was a main part of that goal, but an interesting piece of Berners-Lee's vision has always had to do with the human side of the Web. After all, it's not machines that use the Web, but people.

Accessibility has become a hot topic in web design, despite the fact that it has always been a part of the original vision. In a broad sense, accessibility simply means ensuring that a given page on the Web is able to be accessed. Accessibility is not about disability; rather, it's about people getting to the shared information that the vision of the Web has made manifest.

There has also been a lot said about how accessibility relates to web standards and vice versa. Realistically, accessibility relies on aspects of related web standards, but has in fact become a science, art, and practice of its own. It's a deep specialty, and one that is highly problematic, as what might make a page accessible to one person could conceivably render it inaccessible to another.

What's more, myths about accessibility and what it really means to the web designer and developer abound. To some, accessibility means merely the addition of alternative text for images. That's what folks were taught to do years ago, and that's as far as many go. To others, accessibility is considered an afterthought—something that's added to a site after it has been built. To a certain less than honorable group, web accessibility has become an opportunity for selling unnecessary or inappropriate services to unsuspecting clients, who think they're really doing the right thing and have no way as consumers to verify that what they're asking for is what they're getting.

There is good news though, and much of it has to do with a rising awareness in the industry not just of what accessibility really is, but why it's so important to the entire creation and long-term vision of well-constructed websites. This awareness is coming about through advocacy groups such as the Web Standards Project's Accessibility Task Force (ATF), World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and independent web designers and developers who keep blogs and contribute to forums such as Accessify. And, personal politics aside, it's a fact that many organizations and companies have no choice but to comply with accessibility guidelines because they are being required to do so by legislative actions around the globe.

Hope and help are most certainly at hand here, in a book dedicated to blasting through myths and providing a deep understanding along with real-world practicalities to help the working web professional grasp the complexities of accessibility. By combining the skills and vision of some of the world's foremost accessibility specialists, web designers and developers now have a handbook to help them not only create accessible websites from the get-go, but retrofit sites as well. There's plenty of information about the laws governing accessible site design around the world, as well as how to properly test sites for accessibility, which is no easy task.

If you, like me, are concerned that the sites you work on provide the best possible experience for site visitors, and are concerned with retrofitting sites and managing the accessible site for the long haul, I am confident that Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance will become a constant help and much used resource that no web professional should be without.

Molly E. Holzschlag, Tucson, Arizona, May 2006