Catering for blind users

Many web developers don't cater for blind users very well. I'm not claiming to be a saint in this area, but it's something I have been consciously working on over the last couple of years.

While I don't have a copy of any "real" speech reader software, I do bend over backwards to use semantic HTML, alt attributes on images, and logical link text. Part of my motivation, of course, is that search engines are blind users too. Sometimes I'll even include the phrases I'm trying to rank for in the anchor text of links I create (shock, horror).


This post isn't about making websites that cater for blind users. It's about making footpaths that cater for blind users.

Here's a picture of a hole in the ground with protective barriers.

A hole in the ground with protective barriers

This story starts before the protective barriers went up. What previously existed was simply a hole in the ground.

The senile old lady

I was working onsite at a client's premises when an old lady stumbled into the shop, who had clearly lost the plot. She was wearing a dressing gown and slippers, and was talking complete nonsense, so we assumed she had escaped from the local rest home. My client decided to do the decent thing and escort the lady back home while I minded the shop.

While she was taking the lady home, a bus pulled up at a bus stop just in front of her. A blind man got off the bus, took 2 steps along the footpath, and fell into a gaping big hole in the pavement. The hole pictured was about 2 feet deep and 4 feet wide, so a reasonable enough size to hurt yourself in.

Some people at the bus stop helped him up, and apparently he was fairly calm about the whole situation, given the circumstances. I couldn't help but think that this kind of thing happens all the time to blind people.

Following up

My client called the power company as soon as she got back, and relayed the story to them. The operator at the other end was suitably horrified, and a team was sent out to fix the problem immediately. The barriers went straight up, and no doubt some contractor got a serious roasting over this.

I stopped and took the above picture on my cellphone as I left for the day. I didn't notice as I was taking the photo, but there was a contractor standing guard by the hole (seen in the top of the picture). He was totally unimpressed to see me stop and take the picture, but didn't say anything. I thought this picture and story was relevant enough to be published, and I felt almost paparazzi-like sneaking off with my digital footage.

Blind users are people too

These contractors didn't consider that big fucking holes in the ground are quite dangerous. Similarly, just because web standards aren't important to mass-market IE/Windows users, doesn't mean they aren't important.
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Tags: web designoff topicaccessibility"web design" accessibility "off topic"