Accessibility and inclusive design: absent in the mainstream?

At work, we received a brief recently from a potential new and very prestigious client. The scope of the work was really interesting and then 'it' happened.

I am fairly certain that I entered a time machine that went back to ye olde days of the Internet, when website layouts were manipulated in unspeakable ways in order to enable sighted folk to sit in awe of their visual grooviness, whilst rendering them inaccessible by many disabled folk. People in suits in advertising agencies thought that entire websites built in Flash were "cool", and accessibility and assistive technology were just concepts. In those days, if your website looked pretty on the outside, it didn't matter what was under the hood. Right?

But now in the cyberspace of 2010, it is understood by all good web professionals that a website is a technology product that real human persons interact with, and it takes a mix of skills to build a good website. This, of course, includes great visual design, but the technology, architecture and infrastructure provide a website's foundation. An understanding of people and how they access, use and interact with websites is also central to a website's success.

But I guess this client didn't get that memo, as the brief was asking for agencies to provide visuals only and the decision on which agency would build the website would be based on these visuals alone. There was no requirement for any of the other essential skills in modern inclusive web design and development. As long as the website looked pretty, the client was not interested in anything else.

We tried to explain why a user-centric rather than design-centric approach would ensure a superior website and tried to educate them about inclusive design, accessibility, usability and so on, but I could hear the guy thinking, "Blah. Blah. Why is this geek trying to tell me how to do my job? I am a big cahoona burger at this important organisation."

And so, we declined to pitch for the project and were reminded of what a big mountain we have to climb to make the Internet wholly inclusive.

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