Some tough love: Stop the excuses, already.

Over a year ago, Dale Cruse called me “militant” about accessibility. I know I use strong language at times, but I actively try to have a softer touch. I think he meant it kindly anyway, but I worried a little. “Do I come off too strong?” I wondered. I get a lot of compliments on my blog, so I felt conflicted. Could I be alienating people, too? I think about this kind of thing a lot, actually. But maybe the truth is that others in the accessibility field aren’t confrontational enough.

Today, UC Berkeley posted A statement on online course content and accessibility which contains the following paragraph:

In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free. We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.

The statement by UC Berkeley’s Public Affairs department is, in a word: Bullshit. It is bullshit aimed at making it seem as though accessibility is burdensome and that somehow accessibility requirements are vague.

They say, early in their statement: “Despite the absence of clear regulatory guidance, we have attempted to maximize the accessibility of free, online content that we have made available to the public.” (emphasis mine).

The implication that accessibility for online content is a new topic in higher education – and therefore something UC Berkeley didn’t know about – is a fabrication. As many of you know, I maintain a list of web accessibility related litigation and settlements. The first time the DoJ sued a Higher Education institution was in 2003. NFB sued a handful of schools in 2009. The DoJ and US Dept. of Education’s OCR have been very active over the last few years – enough so that it is a very frequent topic of conversation at accessibility conferences.

If for some reason UC Berkeley needs to “implement extremely expensive measures” to retroactively make this online content accessible after the fact it is because they didn’t give a shit about accessibility from the beginning. That’s their fault, plain and simple, and has nothing to do with any sort of new requirements.

It is time for some tough love

The first version of WCAG came out in 1998. WCAG 2.0 came out in 2008. If you do work for the US Federal Government, Section 508 came out in 1998 and the new version is due soon. At this point, this isn’t new. These requirements aren’t new. The methods of achieving compliance isn’t new. The core Web technologies necessary to make web content accessible are not new. The needs of users with disabilities aren’t new. If any of these topics are new to you, that’s fine. Fucking learn them.

Do you know what union electricians do whenever a new electrical code comes out? They hold classes and learn them. Do you know what accountants do when new tax laws come out? They go to classes and learn them? Why? Because knowing what the hell you’re doing is important to doing a good job.

Whether you like it or not, your company or organization is required by law – explicitly stated or not – to provide ICT products and services that are accessible to people with disabilities. If your work is not accessible, it does not meet the necessary quality standards. Learn how to do it and stop making excuses.