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Accessible websites give light where there was darkness

Submitted by on July 27, 2013 – 1:59 pm

Developer’s focus is accessible standards-compliant WCAG 2.0 AA quality HTML5 Magento and WordPress themes.

By Wanda Hennig

Lotus Seeds Design website screen shotWhen Bay Area web developer Tee Peng was a child growing up in Malaysia, she lived in a house next door to a man who was blind.

“He’d often ask me to take him to the park and to walk him to the shops,” says Tee.

“In the process he taught me to see the world without eyes. I saw some of the challenges of being blind and learned that blind people experience the world very differently from sighted people.

“What else did I learn? I’d say empathy.”

At the time she didn’t know that what she was learning would inspire her years later, when she became a web developer, to make accessibility a focus. “Operating systems, assistive devices such as JAWS and NVDA and browsers as well as mobile devices such as the iPhone and Andriod phones have built-in accessibility support. But setting up websites to be accessible is time-consuming and most websites are not accessible,” she says.

Tee finds this puzzling. When she lived in Singapore she noted that while public transportation was excellent and things worked, “there weren’t specific laws to support people with handicaps and disabilities.”

When she came to the Bay Area, she was impressed by what had been done to support people with disabilities. “I came here and saw that everything is equal. Handicapped people are equal.

“But then I saw that people with disabilities couldn’t access info on the web.

“If you were blind like the neighbor of my youth, you were shut out as were many others. They had no access to the online world. I decided I wanted to make inclusive websites. I wanted my websites to give access to anyone with any ability: people who because they’re vision-impaired or disabled in some form cannot use a mouse (or trackpad); people who need screen-reader software; people who are challenged in some way and need the support of an accessible website.”

The Web Accessibility Initiative website explains that web accessibility means people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the Web and contribute to the Web. Web accessibility, the site points out, also benefits others, including people changing abilities due to aging.

“Browsers, assistive devices and mobile phones have the support of accessibilty ” says Tee. “The web developer needs to make these functions available.” Not all developers want to spend the time and not all clients want to pay for the extra time it takes, she says.

“It takes a lot of caring; empathy. But if you want to make websites accessible to everyone, you have to invest time.” So she has. All her templates and what she offers online — she specializes in Magento and WordPress themes — are standards-compliant and accessible.

“I can lay the groundwork. Then it’s up to the client,” she says.

A lot goes into the accessibility presentation, she points out. “A car photo on a site, for example, has to be faithfully described in the ‘image alt’ tag, e.g., ‘a 2013 model white Toyota Hybrid, Prius.’” You don’t just note it as “a car.”

“You have to describe things so the person hearing the words via the screen reader will see it in their mind’s eye. Most people don’t bother.”

This follows through to other aspects of the site.

“Government agencies and organizations and nonprofit that receive funds from government sector and universities — people who need to comply with the laws — will buy the compliant themes.” Many others don’t bother. Should they? What do you think?

See more on Tee’s accessible and compliant designs and services at her Lotus Seeds Design site. 

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