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10 Reasons Clients Don't Care About Accessibility : Comments

By Christian Heilmann

September 12, 2005


Seth Thomas Rasmussen

September 12, 2005 9:14 PM

One of the most well-written, but more importantly useful articles I’ve seen in a while. Thanks, and good work!

Peter Stringer

September 12, 2005 9:15 PM

Some good thoughts here about the issues we face. I’ve found that even clients who pay lip service to accessibility and toss around terms like “508 compliance” and “alt tags” (you mean alt attributes, sir?) will likely balk when you explain to them that testing is required to make a site accessible.

I agree that we’ve probably improperly made the accessibility issue a technical one. Until we can start building accessibility testing into our project plans, this problem isn’t going away. And you’re rirght: nothing short of a high profile lawsuit will likely alter existing client attitudes.

And when it’s so hard to tie significant ROI on accessibility testing, it’s likely the first thing to get slashed from the budget. So maybe firms need to start finding other ways to build accessibility testing into project budgets – perhaps group it with browser testing?


September 12, 2005 11:50 PM

Excellent article. I’d love to have a Dutch copy of the text: I can read it well, but a lot of people (that matter) cannot. Am I allowed to translate the article?


September 13, 2005 1:58 AM

A very interesting article. Without a doubt as long as accessibility is kept in a little box on it’s own it will suffer it is time to integrate it fully and seamlessly in the development/design process.

Jens Meiert

September 13, 2005 2:22 AM

Excellent points, Christian. We know what we need to do.

Clive Walker

September 13, 2005 2:41 AM

Very good article. Our experience of most small business clients in the UK is that they do not care too much about anything outside of extra sales. This applies in particular to budget websites. I think the only way to persuade clients is to argue the commercial benefits.

Bob Easton

September 13, 2005 3:18 AM

A small nit about lawsuits. In addition to the famous Olympic games suit, New York’s attorney general sued Ramada and Priceline for inaccessibile sites. The suit was settled wihout going to trial with both firms agreeing to make improvements.

Bob Easton

September 13, 2005 3:27 AM

I just saw another variation last week. (names intentionally obscured)

A large U.S. commercial firm, XYZ Corp., has a very strong commitment to accessibility, requiring all applications and sites (intranet and extranet) to be accessible. XYZ was preparing to deploy an intranet application which produces reports based on employee input. At the core is an off-the-shelf reporting package which is inherently produces inaccessible output. XYZ asked the publisher of the reporting software if they could improve the results. The report software publisher responded with, “Why? You’re not government. You don’t have to comply with 508.”


September 13, 2005 5:11 AM

One very good way of explaining the intricacies of web accessibility, that Christian mentioned, is encouraging the client to explore their own web site with a screen reader or other adaptive tool.
Being a screen reader user myself, this is something I have done in lectures, conferences, presentations and client meetings, where the results are very positive.
Initially the message that the client brand is not reaching a given audience really becomes a tangible fact. Then the client suddenly begins to relate the many accessibility concepts they’ve been told about to the actual reality of trying to accomplish a task. Lastly they realise that if they are unable to locate a particular element on a page that they themselves are confidently familiar with, that strangers to the site (who don’t have the benefit of sneaking a peak at the screen) will undoubtedly find the task significantly more difficult.
If approached in a light hearted, humourous way, guided by someone with experience in using the screen reader or other access technology, then this becomes a very effective educational tool.

Chris Heilmann

September 13, 2005 5:52 AM

Thanks for all the nice feedback and extra examples.
Over at Roger Johannson’s blog Cameron Cain made a good point which hails from the current “Is accessibility exclusively about disabled people” debate:

Maybe Point 11 – Stop selling accessibility exclusively as a disabled issue, work in usability, organic search results, mobile devices and perhaps most crucially – increased potential revenue through greater availability of content.
Carrot is usually better than stick?

I didn’t think my article did give the impression about being disability centric, sorry if it did. Accessibility is about all of us, not only catering for disabled needs.
What I found out though is that by facing clients with the fact that a disabled user will have real problems using their site weighs a lot more than the above – albeit valid – points. If you want to get clients via that route, be sure to come up with figures they can believe and that prove your point. Clients have seen wheelchair ramps being built into their offices, and might be able to understand that natural progression easier than a pie in the sky about more users and increased revenue due to more availability.

Krista Stevens

September 13, 2005 6:22 AM

We allow translations of DWM articles with editorial permission, so long as you credit both the author and Digital Web Magazine and include a hyperlink to the original article’s URL. Consider permission granted. :)

Krista Stevens
Editor in Chief


September 13, 2005 6:35 AM

I don’t even make accessibility “features” an option anymore. When I write a proposal, there is always a small paragraph detailing that the site will accomodate disabled users through small markup enhancements that are mostly invisible. This is anecdotal at best, but from the past five proposals written (all but one awarded to me), I have found that clients simply go along with it if I make the option non-negotiable — that is, if I make accessibility enhancements part of my package, like Microsoft makes IE part of Windows. It’s just there — an added bonus that costs nothing extra.

Honestly, if you’re building a site from scratch, how much effort does it take to add some accessibility features? In the age of CSS background images, how many alt attributes are we writing? How much time does it take to write a small “go to content” link before the nav? What does it take to add headers to table columns and tab indexes to nav items?

Why make such a big deal of developing sites with accessibility features? I do not write sites with tables for structure (if the clients want that, find another developer) just I do not write sites without at least minimal accessibility. It’s not an option. It’s how I design websites. It’s my service, not a line item on an invoice. In fact, the client never even has to know about it beyond the initial proposal because it’s not costing them anything extra and the “maintenance” is trivial at best.

Chris Heilmann

September 13, 2005 6:56 AM

100000 pages, in 13 languages, maintained by 30 editors worldwide. They do upload and add content images and content images do need alternative text, you cannot keep them in CSS.
It is not about adding the HTML necessary to be technically accessible. If your content is not easy to read or your colour settings do not have enough contrast then you cannot claim to be accessible to all. Accessibility is not a technical problem, it is a human interaction issue. And that includes text, design and, yes technicalities like markup and scripting.

Chris Heilmann

September 13, 2005 6:57 AM

^ Please disregard that one…


valid points there, but this only applies to the small to medium market. “Accessibility Features” is a no-go way of dealing with accessibility – making the client aware about accessibility is what we need to try to achieve.
It is not about adding skip link functionality – it is about explaining the need for skip links (if there is one).
One of my company’s clients has a Web Site with over 100000 pages, in 13 languages, maintained by 30 editors worldwide. They do upload and add content images and content images do need alternative text, you cannot keep them in CSS.
It is not about adding the HTML necessary to be technically accessible. If your content is not easy to read or your colour settings do not have enough contrast then you cannot claim to be accessible to all. Accessibility is not a technical problem, it is a human interaction issue. And that includes text, design and, yes technicalities like markup and scripting.

Kris Meister

September 13, 2005 8:17 AM

Clive Walker wrote:
Very good article. Our experience of most small business clients in the UK is that they do not care too much about anything outside of extra sales. This applies in particular to budget websites. I think the only way to persuade clients is to argue the commercial benefits.

I agree with you… except its clients everywhere that don’t care about much else than sales.

What I would like is some hard figures about how many screen reader users are out there. I’ve found some information but none of the data looks too significant. For clients I approach this issue as a search engine optimization one. ie: You want good search engine ranking right? and an added benifit is its screen reader friendly.

Does anyone have some hard data on say… what percent of middle managment use screen readers? How about as the article talked about 80 year olds shoping for video games? Thats the kind of data i would like to present to the client if its significant numbers. I would love to be able to approaph accisiblity from a sales perspecitve but the numbers are too low.

If a flash interface is going to be a better user experience for the masses, than I would recommend for the client to do it. accessible or not its about business and numbers.

ps. Does anyone have exerience with flash movies being read by a screen reader? We seem to have a lot of experts here.

Andrey Smagin

September 13, 2005 8:36 AM

Interesting material. I think that problem could be solved much sooner if there would be a leader to follow but on other side. If more and more big sites and online stores would make it clear that they care about the issue, smaller companies would start to imitate and get interest in accessibility.
And it’s up to us developers to do that and bring attention to the issue. Great article!

Vlad Alexander

September 13, 2005 9:17 AM

WYSIWYG editing is a very big selling point for a content management system, but it will inevitably result in malformed markup and bad document structure.”

Chris, this is not a fair statement. XStandard, for example, lets non-technical users author standards compliant, valid and accessible markup.

Chris Heilmann

September 13, 2005 9:29 AM


true, the article is about half a year old, and right now I am working with Immediacy and their product also has quite a good WYSIWYG editor.
That said, WYSIWYG with validation still does not mean the content is accessible, and you can mess up the code if you want to.

It is a vicious circle: You don’t want to restrict editors in their options and you don’t want them to create bad markup. Personally I am a big fan of textile, but when we tried to use something like textile/bbcode on our company wiki here many people complained because it is “too hard to use”.
I never used xstandard, though. I am vary of editors I need to download :-)

Vlad Alexander

September 13, 2005 10:16 AM

Chris, I don’t want this post to take focus away from your excellent article, but check out what XStandard does to generate accessible markup. As far as downloading goes, it’s the only way to create a product that generates standards compliant, accessible and valid markup in a cross browser (and soon cross platform) environment.


September 13, 2005 10:19 AM

Another usually presented for clients not to care about acessibility: disabled people won’t be interested in our product —- which is practically always a pitfall, specially because blind people aren’t deprived of the will of offering an essencially visual aparatus to a sighted friend.

Steve Williams

September 13, 2005 10:22 AM

Hi Chris,

Since your headline and opening paragraph stated clients don’t care about accessibility, I was proposing a cash angle that has worked for me- mostly without, but occasionally requiring real data to convince a client (not web clients, I’ve had no worries there so far, but am new at this so bow to your superior knowledge that it’s not always that simple).
Steve (Cameron Cain)

Nick Finck

September 13, 2005 10:37 AM

Vlad, as Chris said, just because the code validates does not mean it’s accessible. Just because the page passes an accesibility validator does not mean it’s accessible either.

Vlad Alexander

September 13, 2005 11:01 AM

Nick, I looked back at my comments and nowhere do I say that validation (markup or accessibility checker) on its own means accessibility. My comments are strictly in response to Chris’ statements that use of WYSIWYG editors “inevitably result in malformed markup and bad document structure.” I also offer an example of a WYSIWYG editor that not only generates valid markup but also accessible markup. If you have a specific example of where XStandard generates non-accessible markup, let us know and it will get fixed.

Chris Heilmann

September 13, 2005 12:30 PM

Ok, before this here becomes either a commercial for XStandard or a mudfight:

It might be that XStandard is clever enough to prevent editors from making mistakes, and if you contact me via my blog or email I am happy to test it and give it a review there.

This part of the article might be a generalisation, but I took big content management and development IDEs as my base for this statement and most of these do produce pitiful markup – as you state on your site yourself. The very idea of WYSIWYG connects presentation with text, and not structure with text and that is where it becomes dangerous. How many well-structured Word documents have you encountered in your life? It is not as if Word in incapable of offering good document structure, the way it is used is what makes documents hard to re-use or convert.

So, please contact me and I promise to give XStandard a good spin, rinse and hopefully not hang it out to dry.

Jared Smith

September 13, 2005 1:13 PM

Excellent article. Even though accessibility is not just about ‘disabled’ people, I do believe it’s vital that clients and developers learn WHY accessibility is so important and HOW people with disabilities access and use the Web. 5 minutes with a screenreader on their own site can teach them more than hours of discussion about laws, standards, markets, blah, blah. Show them how accessibility features (or the lack thereof) affect real people and you’ve got a much easier sell.

Another problem, one that you allude to, is that accessibility has always been sold as being “easy”. It’s not (despite what some of the previous comments indicate). And it’s getting harder. While the tools and knowledge base better support minimal accessibility for simple content pages, applying accessibility at a system-wide level on a large, high quality, standards-compliant site, with all the bells and whistles that clients want, is not an easy task.


September 13, 2005 6:56 PM

Chris —

You are absolutely right in that “accessibility features” like skip link are insignificant, and that was a poor choice of words on my part. When I write my proposals, my section on accessibility clearly states that I am adding HTML-specific attributes and tags to increase accessibility as well as take into consideration color choices, animations, color options and resizable text that may affect visual presentation.

As I said in my first post, my experience is anecdotal at best. However, every client is delighted to have these features — not one has come back and said “well how much is this going to cost?” because I do not make a big deal out of it. I don’t line item accessibility — it’s simply part of the greater package.

In general, most clients are nontechnical people. They don’t care how the site is made, only that it is done right, and accessibility is part of doing that right. Its not the client’s responsibility to understand every little HTML tag, CSS value, JavaScript function, etc. They just want the site to work.

That being said, it is critical to educate clients on maintenance. I always explain that if they upload a graphic, it must include an alt attribute, and if they link to something, that link should have a title attribute. I do explain why, and clients are cool with that. They get it. But these are simple things — they don’t need to know why I didn’t design their site with red text on a black background or why certain animations trigger seizures.

I like sausage. I eat it for breakfast all the time. But I do not care to know how it is made. (Really, I know enough to know that I don’t want to know.)

Chris Heilmann

September 14, 2005 2:06 AM

The sausage attitude is the same a lot of clients show. That is why a lot of money is spent on bad web sites and that is also why we had to kill and burn a lot of lifestock because of foot and mouth some time ago. There is Cheap, Quick and Good. You are lucky to pick two at a time.

We are talking about two different levels of development here. If you develop and maintain a site for a client and you do care about these things then yes, the client does not need or want to know.

If you sell a templated solution in a CMS where the client will do all the content, you will need to explain things and get their buy-in, otherwise your work is likely to be butchered sooner or later. I had a clean cut 300 lines CSS files for a huge site, one year later it is 6300 lines and each HTML element has an own class. The CMS allows for template development via VBScript, and that meant that there are also random JavaScript/VB gimmicks added to the content. Now the client came back to us to clean it up. And this is the kind of loop I would love to avoid.

Chris Peters

September 14, 2005 4:18 AM

Because we keep talking about alt attributes, let me point you to this:

Everything you’d ever want to know about the alt attribute

How how about this, if you are unsure what screen readers are about:

Screen readers 101

(End shameless plug.)

Richard Holding

September 14, 2005 8:22 AM

Excellent article – how about a follow up. 10 Reasons why businesses should care about web accessibility.

Chris Heilmann

September 15, 2005 3:53 AM

Richard, there are a lot of those around, but hardly any of them come with real figures and success stories and that is what we need. Working for npower (and actually marginally with me) could you see an increase in user numbers or happier clients? Can you produce figures as to how cheaper the maintenance got?

It is pretty easy to list goodies, but, as stated in this article, we need hard facts to persuade people.

Douglas Bowman showed in his @media slides how much traffic were able to save by the redesign, which could be translated to hard cash savings, we need more of those.

Jordan Wollman

September 15, 2005 7:54 AM

Great article. Thanks for your thoughts.

When bidding, and billing clients, I stick compliancy in there with development. It is clearly outlined as a part of the development/testing phase, and I have not had a single client get upset.

My view is that I am going to make it happen. Just like going the extra mile in other ways, I make sure my clients have sites that are accessible to as many users as I can manage.


September 16, 2005 6:08 AM

Chris wrote:
It’s hard to explain to non-technical client why you have two development hours on your plan that didn’t result in any visible change.

This is an interesting statement considering that many feel that accessible web sites are boring (in appearance). This is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

Larry Goldberg

September 16, 2005 7:03 AM

Chris wrote:

Shawn Snarski

September 16, 2005 1:30 PM

Excellent article! I like how it covers various ways to put on a new spin on an old problem. Most of the sites I maintain see the light sooner or later, but it generally takes a few customer complaints to get them asking the questions.

I have tried Xstandard a little and the biggest problem I noticed offhand is the nomenclature. It’s tough to tell which classes/id’s refer to which elements without using the wysiwyg controls from within Xstandard itself…. It’s not hand-coder friendly in my experience with it.

Jens Grochtdreis

September 16, 2005 2:18 PM

Excellent article, Chris. I am totally with you. My point is, that we need arguments and information that let the clients detect good and bad websites. Most of the web-agencys or freelancer don’t care about good markup or webstandards. They don’t think accessibility is important.

So if the client knows how detect quality he could choose good quality for his good money. Otherwise he continues to pay good money for crap.

I know this is a hard task, but it is an important one. Unfortunately I am not sure, how we could achive this.


September 19, 2005 1:07 AM

As the accessiblity/sandards approach goes hand-in-hand with search engine optimisation I find most clients are very enthusiastic about it. SEO is a top priority for alot of clients.


September 20, 2005 2:58 AM

Some very good points here but I would take issue with some.

We deal with many large UK blue chip clients who have all embraced accessibility in the last few years.

We have found that the main concepts behind making accessible websites are not that hard to explain to clients and not too difficult for them to take on board.

I disagree with the following points:

Point 2:
This point only holds true if an organization already has a very usable but inaccessible website now. The vast majority of organizations that have inaccessible websites also have unusable websites. We have no difficulty persuading clients that a more accessible and more usable website means more customers that are more likely to come back and that this is an immediate benefit.

Point 3:
This is definitely true but it’s up to us to change this. Accessibility needs to be built in from the begining of all projects. We ensure that everyone in our company including the Sales team understands accessibility. We mare it crystal clear to clients that part of what they are paying for is this ‘built in’ accessibility.

Point 4:
In our experience this is not true for many clients. Any UK company that has a presence in the physical world will already be aware of disability issues via the DDA.

Point 7:
This certainly can be true but its really not difficult to turn this round into a positive by explaining to clients that a more accessible website has many positive benefits.


September 20, 2005 11:32 AM

I must admit that much of this accessability talk makes me shudder, and the concept of someone suing because they could not navigate a site seems ludicrous..
Talk of Flash sites: – It may make your skin crawl, but I love to develop using Flash, I find it the perfect tool for deliving the more esoteric, artistic sites that many of my more left-field clients require..sites with somewhat obscure navigations to begin with, that may confuse people with perfect eyesight, mouse dexterity and a high-speed set-up.
Many sites promote an ‘experience’, rather than being simply a collection of linked information pages..a site for a out-of-the-box digital artist and sculptor may be deliberately crafted to convey an artistic vision, may be text-free, might simply be a succession of Flash/3d/animations that express the artist’s vision. How would this be made ‘accessable’ ? [screenreader voice: Big blobby thing with lines coming out at angles..bright swooshes, right to left, little dots fall into pattern on semi-transparent surface..]
It would be entirely against such a typical aesthetic to plonk a menu, or a ‘skip links’, or stuff the page with alt attributes behind conventional graphics..
Without wishing to appear anti-PC, I believe that the analogy of fitting wheelchair ramps to buidings is false in the case of many sites..the concept of being liable for someone not being able to receive your goods of services based on the fact that they are not as readily available to someone who is not as able as others to receive them is dangerous.
Does this mean that a blind person could sue the owner of a graphical Flash site because they cannot ‘use’ it ?
Cannot deaf people sue the makers of Radio broadcasts or musicians on the same basis ?
I am unable to understand the contents of the Journal ‘Quantum Physics Review’, due to my inability to be intelligent enough – Im not proposing that they make their copy simpler for me to understand, similarly, I cannot be responsible for making my site content accessible to everyone.
I will happily ensure that when and where web pages can reasonably be expected to be used by screenreaders and the mouseless, I shall endevour to make them accessable, but if the conceptual aesthetics of the presentation excludes this, I will not alter the deployment to the detriment of the piece.
The web is and will always be more than the media of linear websites used to disseminate and gather data and language, and to legislate so is far more dangerous and short-sighted than those practises against which it was designed to stop.

Paul K. Gjenvick

September 20, 2005 5:50 PM

As a developer, I try to get clients to understand the accessibility issues. Instead of trying to conquer the world in a week, I’ll work to convert my clients. If it’s an existing site, try to retrofit to priority 1 to the best of my abilities. If it is a new site, insist on priority 2 compliance. I like the idea of just making it one of the components of web design rather than an option. Perhaps in ten years, a vast majority of the websites will comply with level 2 and it will become a non-issue – just like creating a website using CSS and XHTML and using standards to get it to look right. This will be an issue that will realistically, be phased in over a period of time. Let’s all encourage all new development to incorporate accessibility as a standard.


September 21, 2005 4:36 AM

I wholeheartedly agree that most businesses don’t care about accessibility – but as with all sales situations, you can always use the old favourites as leverage – Fear and Greed.

As previously mentioned SEO etc is very important these days, and clients motivation to participate in that field is greed. More cash, simple as that, obvious. Accessibility provides a very strong foundation upon which to build SEO success [in organic listings and link building]. So there’s a point to get across to the client.

The other option is Fear. It is correct at the time I write this that there is insufficient legal precedent to motivate clients to demand accessibility as standard in their web projects. However, this will not always be the case. Surely it is as simple as referring to the existing (if negligible) legal ‘success’ of the DDA and 508 and then pointing out that it is practically inevitable that there will be more to come.

Obviously at this time smaller businesses are ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ in a manner of speaking, insofar as ‘if XYZ Corp can get away with it, why the hell should I bother?’. Once those giants are toppled, those small businesses whom most of us rely on for our own income will pretty much be forced to comply.

That is the point when our own dilligence and ethical operating standards will be duly rewarded – it’s just that nobody knows when that will happen. Hang in there, I guess.


September 27, 2005 11:41 PM

Interesting article, however, I would be interested in people’s take on applying accessibility to applications delivered via the web. The legislation (typical government) latched onto the simplest case a static website or simple CMS, they completely failed to address the case of complex web applications, where to provide a totally accessible alternative, would require maintaining a almost complete parallel site with simplified functionality – not a realistic option for most businesses.

just a student

October 12, 2005 3:06 PM

Follow the link for my review of Christian Heilmann’s article and the one by Trenton Moss “How to sell accessibility”, which answered Heilmann’s laments over a year before it was published:

Jens Meiert

October 21, 2005 2:56 AM

Good work, Christian! However, and though I only skimmed the comments for it:


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