Silverlight and the reality of Accessibility

 

I’ve just finished reading Kelly’s post on CBS + Silverlight + Accessibility.  Its a great post, as the intent and motivation behind it seems to be based from a healthy place.

The thing about this post however, is the cold hard reality of what the intent of this post today is unlikely to yield a positive outcome. I say this boldly knowing full well someone out there will highly likely go “Just wait a darn gone minute barnesy, what are you saying here..”

The rationale behind my wording here is that when you combine a somewhat complex UX issue as Accessibility and mix it with Silverlight, well your talent pool can drop significantly beyond where it was before the two pieces were to meet. As it stands today, finding UX Specialists that can bring high quality experiences to Silverlight isn’t as vast as one would have hoped, now combine this need with “must have accessibility experience” and well, its small is all.

Its a tough problem to crack and any who do wish to partake in the quest to dominate this problem, will do so without a lot of guidance from the web. Silverlight is still in a relatively early stages of growth, as whilst there is wild success in installation and developer uptake, there is however a lot of unchartered ground to cover in terms of identifying best practices, guidance and techniques to solving problems that are mostly covered off 10x over in spaces like HTML/JS/CSS – not just with Accessibility as well.

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Having said all of that, there are pieces to this puzzle that can be brought forward from HTML/JS/CSS into the Silverlight arena to push that agenda forward more. The question is really how does one bring these to the surface? who’s the folks leading this charge and how can more sites like CBS take a page out of their gospels? This is a problem in which more light should be cast as well as ways to ensure Silverlight based solutions also factor in a graceful degradation for situations where there is either a technical or resource challenge in place.

Is that fair though? in that if accessibility is too costly for a brand and as a result they adopt the cheap approach by marshalling folks with accessibility issues to a separate and less immersive experience, does this not hurt the equality of the web? Bloody oath it does and everytime that occurs, a kitten gets punched in the face – as its just as cruel.

In the end though, sadly, its a numbers game, and whether we wish to face this reality or keep hammering away at the politics surrounding it, often, companies will balance between quality vs quantity when it comes to issues like this.

If an intended experience is made up of 95% of folks who aren’t likely to face accessibility issues vs 5% who are, what is the risk/consequences of ignoring that 5%. Is that right to state that so coldly, no, but in today’s online environment that equation is often calculated daily if not weekly.  There are a lot of highly visible brands online today who aren’t 100% accessibly compliant – in fact Microsoft.com/Silverlight itself has issues there – so who or what entities cast light on this problem as one-off blog posts aren’t really being as effective as it could be. How can this issue in general, especially for the Silverlight community simply turn a corner and lead more by example?

I know there is a few folks inside the Silverlight engineering team that are solely devoted to the art of accessibility, so its not like Microsoft is ignoring the existence of this problem, absolutely not instead they are attacking it the best and fastest way they know how with the resources they have. Question is, who in the Silverlight community is actively supporting them and how many?

Where is the guidance on this problem in a more real-world focused way.