Yesterday I attended a Web Accessibility conference put on by JHU. By and large, it was helpful, if a little disheartening. I came out feeling I have a ton of work to do on the websites I manage.
One workshop really opened my eyes to the difficulties of modern-day living with a disability. I attended one session where the two speakers were blind. It was in a conference room, with us and the speakers sitting at one of the big oval tables. They brought a laptop and had an LCD projector hooked up.
The presenters were experts with their laptops, experts at navigating software, and the web. Yet, there were periodic glitches in the presentation that were clearly frustrating for them and us. Imagine having to find a missing alt tag in an html document, without looking at your screen. Imagine trying to fill out an online survey, with a question that spans 5 columns and 50 rows... Imagine talking to a room full of people who are nodding their heads politely at your talk, but you can't see them doing that. Try to hand someone a business card across a 10 foot table, when you can't see them. It was humbling.
I have been bitching because I have to make a website 508-compliant, a website I didn't create and can't change too much on. It never really dawned on me what a huge difference such efforts make to actual people. In the last census, a third of Americans said there was a disabled person in their family. A third. Suddenly it seems worth the effort.