The “Curb Cut” Benefits of WCAG 2.0

Mike Erlindson

In the late 90s I conducted a seminar for a company I worked for on building accessible Web sites. I interviewed Jutta Treviranus who at the time was the head of a department at The University of Toronto that researched assistive technologies.

One of the key things she promoted was the concept of “curb cut” advantages of assistive technologies. This is the idea that technologies that start off aiding people with cognitive, motor, hearing or eye-site challenges eventually end up helping the population as a whole. This means if you cut a ramp in a sidewalk curb for people in wheelchairs there are benefits, for example, to parents pushing strollers. It also removes a tripping hazard for walkers.

Shortly after the millennium, I taught a 12-week college class as an associate professor on information design for three years. One of the classes was on ways to make Web sites accessible and I based most of the class on information I learned from Jutta Treviranus.

In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is mandating that organizations with more than 50 employees, public sector organizations (hospitals, municipalities) , educational institutions and libraries must deliver online services in WCAG 2.0 format. You can use the AODA Compliance Wizard (link: https://www.appacats.mcss.gov.on.ca/eadvisor/) to find out how your organization is affected.

There are a lot of benefits to WCAG 2.0 that go beyond its intended audience. At the same time we are seeing rapid changes to Website design because of the increased use of mobile and tablet devices. By their nature, design focused on mobile and tablet is simplified compared to desktop design. I refer to this as subtractive design since you are taking out superfluous design elements and trying to focus on what’s important – the actual content. In a way WCAG 2.0 design requirements compliment mobile, tablet and /or fluid design.

The second “curb cut” benefit has to do with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). A site that is easier to read through a screen reader will be easier to crawl for a search site index robot from Google, Bing or Yahoo.

Just because we are taking design elements out of the site doesn’t mean it has to be boring. There are new Web programming techniques that allow stylized fonts that go beyond the 20 or so old Web safe fonts that everyone uses. Now we can use Google fonts or even proprietary fontsThe Boston Globe is a great example of this.

About The Author

Mike Erlindson is the President & CEO of Soulfx Technologies. He manages the design and development teams and has worked on hundreds of projects for clients in a wide range of industries. He previously worked at the Southam Infolab, Cyberplex and was Senior Producer of The Toronto Star Online.

He’s been both an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Ontario and an Associate Professor at Centennial College teaching classes on User Experience Design and Client Service for Technology Consultants.

His entire career intersects content and technology. Always on the cutting edge, his masters degree research paper about online newspapers won the top award of his graduate school class.

Mike can be found at:

About Soulfx

Soulfx specializes in digital strategy, user experience design and cloud software development. Our software applications help clients become more efficient which increases revenue and decreases costs. Client industries include health sciences, pharmaceuticals, financial services, insurance, government and education. Contact Soulfx or call 1-877-827-4555 xt. 228