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Children and Accessibility: It matters

June 18, 2004

Have kids. If that won’t convince you that web sites should be accessible, I don’t know what will.

I’m a new parent again – Kampbell, our third child, arrived just over two weeks ago. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful children. However, the more I try to do, the more I realize that in some ways children are just like some form of temporary impairment… Here’s a half-serious half-joking look at why… ;)

Auditory Impairments

This one is fairly obvious. Children are loud. I have dedicated office space in the basement of our home – and while the children respect the “don’t go into Daddy’s office when the door is closed or before supper” rule, let me assure you that the rule has absolutely no bearing on what happens above me. The office is right under the kitchen. You wouldn’t believe how extraordinarily loud uncooked pasta is – especially when a full, 2kg, bought-in-bulk bag is slowly emptied on to a ceramic tile floor. You may also be interested to know that a basement acts as a really good resonance chamber, and picks up the vibrations from a stool or chair being pushed across the floor at a slow, but painstakingly steady pace. Good luck with multimedia content.

I couldn’t listen to Dave Winer’s explanation of the closing of, so I was very pleased to find a text transcript available, either for reading then and there, or for printing and offline viewing later… I’d like to think that a SMIL version would have been nice, but I doubt the kids would have let me hear it. Providing alternative formats lets busy parents choose.

Cognitive Impairments

We have three kids. There is so much noise in the house, we have a tough time finding the signal. My wife and I hardly have a chance to have a normal conversation, let alone do things on the web. We can’t concentrate properly. We are very tired. We don’t pay attention the way we should.

I can’t read online at certain times of the day — either because the noise in the house is too high, or because I’m simply too tired. So, can you help us all out? Make things scannable. Provide summaries on your documents so that we can decide if we should take the time to read the piece in its entirety. Make things easy to use and easy to understand for everyone… please?

Visual Impairments

I work at home so that I have the flexibility to spend time with my kids during the day. When Kathryn needs to run some errands or just plain get out of the house, I often have one child to hold as I’m sitting at the computer. I usually take that opportunity to kick back and catch up on some of my regular reads like Andy’s Stuff and Nonsense, Dave’s Mezzoblue, Scrivs at whitespace, Mike at Phark, or Gez at JuicyStudio..

I can’t read at my regular distance, though. I can’t keep whomever I’m holding too close to the keyboard – flailing feet and arms are bad for your system, and bad for your sanity. So, I push the keyboard most of the way in, bump up the font-size and back away from the desk. I need that rescalable text… I use Firefox so that’s no problem, but think of all the other mommies and daddies out there that don’t…

Motor Impairment

With children sleeping on one shoulder — I only have one hand available and have to type in hunt and peck mode. Not so good. Perhaps I should get one of those half keyboards?

Did I mention that touchpads don’t take well to spilled juice or other bodily fluids that have a propensity to escape from newborns?

Yes, keyboard only is the way to go for parents… or maybe I need to fire up the voice recognition software?

Oh… it also seems that I lack fine motor control. When trying to navigate or fill in online forms, I can’t steady my hand – someone keeps tugging on my shirt sleeve or pulling on my arm, asking for something or another…

Technological Restrictions

Remember serial mice? the 9-pin ones that you plugged in, and could actually screw into place? Nice and sturdy, and don’t pop out… PS-2 and USB mice on the other hand, can pop out of their plug very easily, especially when kids are crawling around on the floor.

My mouse has fallen and I can’t get up… at least not with a child sleeping on me who, incidentally, took 45 minutes to fall asleep… OK then, keyboard only it is…

Please, make your sites accessible… you may just thank yourself later…

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6 Responses

Comment by Catherine — Jun 19 2004 @ 4:17 pm

Wow, great article. Original, informative and pretty darn funny.

Comment by Tommy Olsson — Jun 21 2004 @ 3:55 am

Well done! This is a great illustration of how accessibility isn’t something that affects “only” a small part of the population. The underlying humour only adds to the value of the article.
Accessibility often seems to be interpreted as “catering for the blind”. While that is an important part, it’s far from all of it. Everyone has something to gain by accessible design.

Comment by Jonathan Snook — Jun 30 2004 @ 6:36 pm

great article…especially as I type this out with one hand while holding my 5 month old in the other.

Comment by Yukki Pospel — Jul 12 2004 @ 7:03 am

Very thoughtful and serious article. Thanks alot.

Comment by luke — Aug 29 2004 @ 12:41 pm

You think they are loud now, just wait till they are teenagers :)

Comment by Ben Boyle — Jul 11 2006 @ 8:05 pm

It’s all true! Subtitles on DVDs and captions on TV shows are also vital for overcoming the noise. Actually there is a time when the house is quiet—when children are sleeping. But then you need to turn all the volume down low so as not to disturb that peace—bless captions and subs! :)