Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Accessibility: Use Ajax, Get Sued?

Category: Accessibility, Editorial

Agile Ajax discusses the legal and moral issues of using Ajax from an accessibility perspective.

I was arguing with a speaker at an SOA conference yesterday about whether AJAX for public facing websites was a bad idea. He kept insisting that if you use AJAX, you will get sued, and that Southwest Airlines had in fact lost a case on accessibility already. His claim was bugging me for the rest of the conference, so after I got back to the office I checked up on it. It turns out Southwest actually won that case. But there are new lawsuits springing up all the time.

Ajax Accessibility is a topic we’ve covered quite a bit, and was a big theme at The Ajax Experience. It’s definitely something most of the speakers have thought about, and consider to be important. Bill Scott, for example, mentioned an accessibility person is involved in reviewing Yahoo!’s Ajax patterns.

It’s fair enough to be concerned, but remember that accessibility has always been a concern, and Ajax does give us much more power than we had in the past to overcome those problems. As one example, Ajax makes it much easier for people to customize their applications, and customization is key for accessibility. So while Ajax opens up new problems, it also offers new solutions.

Posted by Michael Mahemoff at 5:38 am

4.1 rating from 48 votes


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Pingback by Ajaxian » Accessibility: Use Ajax, Get Sued? — May 24, 2006

The Southwest Airlines case was not germane to Ajax, and was won because it was still possible for the blind to buy tickets, although difficult. Whether this means we who use Ajax will have to code alternative paths, so that tasks “remain possible” for speech readers remains to be seen — hopefully accessibility tools will improve their responsiveness to Ajax events faster than the legal attacks on a much purer innovation.

You said: “for example, … customization is key for accessibility”

Care to expand on that, and perhaps give us a real example of what you mean?

Comment by Marty — May 24, 2006

In Holland people are not into lawsuits, but into ignoring parties that won’t give what you need, so the party feels it in the wallet.

That said: How would an party (like the airline) deal with a person that still uses a very old browser, not capable of tables? Or when a browser’s Javascript is disabled (by a company).

Ajax is new and ofcourse you will hear some background noise from some audience but n’t let us stop using it for the benefit of web 2.0.
(Don’t forget the better bandwidth usage that comes with 2.0)

Comment by Marcel Huijkman — May 24, 2006

Ajax lacking support for blind people ?

Web2.0 techniques, especially AJAX creates a beautiful and rich gui for your website. But that doesn't mean a thing to the blind. They just get more trouble because of it. Lawsuits are filed more and more against companies whose websites…

Trackback by Web 2.0 — May 24, 2006


Accessibility means many things – as Joe Walker pointed out a while ago, it’s a myth that accessibility is a single issue ( Accessibility relates to motor coordination, seeing ability, hearing ability, culture, age, even browser versions and operating systems.
Assuming there’s a single design technique that fixes accessibility is about as naieve as assuming a “firewall appliance” will solve all security concerns. When I say customization is key, I mean that users should be able to set preferences according to their own needs (and of course the preference setting needs to be accessible).

The simplest real example is the common font size selection widget – yeah, each browser lets you do that in some way or another, and activating it might override a custom stylesheet setting, but it’s nice to have it built in to the page’s UI. Another simple example is highlighting strategies – again, you can do it with CSS, but once you start looking at richer visualization-type apps, you’re going to want preferences to be set within the app’s UI rather than someone having to mess with style settings. If visualising a tree, how would you highlight recent nodes. A typical user would probably get the greatest benefit from use of different colours, but a colour-blind user might instead prefer different shapes.

BTW Customisation is just one example of the kind of thing we can do with Ajax that we couldn’t do with standard form-based apps. There are other examples too, e.g. I’m not an accessibility expert, but I’d expect that certain visual effects may help some users (and probably hinder others, which comes back to customisation). Similarly if we accept that accessibility means more than “must run without JS” and think of users who might have problems understanding how a site works, techniques like well-considered tooltips and explanatory popups may help too.

Comment by Michael Mahemoff — May 24, 2006

I think that is rediculous. I fI want ot create a website and choose not to make it accessible to blind people than that is my choice. They should have no bases for suing me. The legal system has gone down the toilet. It is easy for criminals to get away with murder while regular citizens can be sued for the stupidest things.

Comment by Justin — May 24, 2006

This is all serious stuff, but…..

When an American person looks at a dutch person, he smiles while watching his wooden shoes. When a dutch person looks back he smiles too. (and that’s because of your legal system….)

It really is good to consider having a website that can be used by everybody, but sometimes the customer that has the website just want to spend the money on Joe Average because that’s where the money is.
(And their competitor does it also like this)

Comment by Marcel Huijkman — May 24, 2006

What’s next? Suing a company because they don’t translate their site into another language? Lets see, I can’t do online banking because my bank doesn’t translate their site into Farsi, lets sue on grounds of accessibility! This is ridiculous, a blind person can always pickup the phone and DIAL Southwest to purchase tickets, its not like online ticketing is the only way someone can buy plane tickets, and besides you can’t expect businesses to cater to 100% of people and still remain profitable. We don’t expect our business owners to make every label, tag and price listed in a store to also have a brail version.

Comment by Sean Fousheé — May 24, 2006

It’s perfectly possible to have an AJAX-enabled website that is still accessible to people with other needs. We already put form validations into the server-side code as well, for the same reasons that we should consider javascript and css as *helpers* to our site, not the site itself.

As an acid test, disable javascript and css on your website. If it’s no longer useable, you just failed the test.

Comment by Mike Ritchie — May 24, 2006

accessibility, shmaccessibility…

just give me rounded corners and pastel colors, screw the blind.

Comment by Ryan Gahl — May 24, 2006

I love my Color Classic …
You must code your website to suit my needs. Or I’ll prostitute. I mean prosecute. Oh damn. Then I’ll sue Microsoft because IE7 doesn’t run on my Coco …
Maybe then I’ll sue myself because my Color Classic doesn’t hover, and basketballs do.

Comment by xurizaemon — May 25, 2006

Funky, I get a download box when I hit submit.
Is this that new AJAX stuff? Where the responseText loads straight into bbEdit?

Comment by xurizaemon — May 25, 2006

I work for a non-profit making organisation which is mostly funded by Government here in the UK. We have had to take all the javascript out of our entire website because our management fears… something. I *think* they fear that if people use our site with javascript disabled, they may feel they are being discriminated against because javascript-enabled users will have a better experience!

I think the fear is not so much of being sued as of attracting negative media attention, but I’m guessing about that.

Has anyone else come up against anything as extreme as this?

Comment by buster gooding — May 25, 2006

[…] I was arguing with a speaker at an SOA conference yesterday about whether AJAX for public facing websites was a bad idea. He kept insisting that if you use AJAX, you will get sued, and that Southwest Airlines had in fact lost a case on accessibility already. His claim was bugging me for the rest of the conference, so after I got back to the office I checked up on it. It turns out Southwest actually won that case. But there are new lawsuits springing up all the time.  |  […]

Pingback by Dee’s-Planet! » Accessibility: Use Ajax, Get Sued? — May 25, 2006

I’m going to make a website where the text is black, and the background is dark blue. And there’ll be random swirling lines (maybe a dark brown) in the background to make it hard to read. And I’ll make it all one big image so no one can highlight the text to make it more readable. It will have one help link, which displays a popup (yes, a whole new window) that has red text on a green background. So sue me …

No really. Unless you are building a government website, or the only point of entry into a public system you shouldn’t be sued over accessibility concerns. Sure, you should try your best to make everyone’s web experience as friendly as possible. I am not saying ignore any segment of society, at any rate.

I have a house (no really). If I invite a friend in a wheel chair over and suddenly realize that I have no ramp or elevator to help them get inside, they can’t sue me. They can call me names, and spraypaint my lawn pink, but they can’t sue me. If, on the other hand, my same (former) friend goes to renew their driver’s lisence (don’t do it …) and they face the same problem of access, they probably have a case. It’s not a the case that everything by law needs to be accessible to everyone. There’s a balance that’s understood, one that changes constantly, but it’s not all or nothing.

Comment by Dan — May 25, 2006

[…] Captcha – just implemented. Let me know if you have any problems. Unfortunately, it does go against accessibility, but contributors who have difficulty with it could always mail me contributions. Hopefully, mediawiki will incorporate captcha at some point, the kind of project where the resources for a more accessible solution would make sense. Mail me if you want more info on the implementation. […]

Pingback by Software As She’s Developed - Got Captcha? Antispam on AjaxPatterns — May 25, 2006

I wish AJAX was 100% accessible already love to use it on our website.

Comment by Dennis — June 28, 2006

alot of sue happy people out there.

Comment by Rich — December 30, 2006

Yes, Dan, but hopefully you are not selling stuff out of your house either. Plus, I’m pretty sure you would lose that friend. The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) of the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) require public facilities and grounds to comply with design, construction, and installation standards and provide equal access through wheelchair ramps. It is about time for some legislation that recognizes the difference between public and private online stores as well and extend this legislation to make website store fronts accessible.

Let me ask you this: If you were made to spend $120 for a cab ride to the airport and back to buy a plane ticket, while other people can buy it online, would you not be upset?? Online merchants should not be allowed to turn people away at will either.

Comment by Thea — July 13, 2007

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