Dear Taylor, I just had to write.
I am a huge fan. I came to your concert in Manchester (UK) and enjoyed myself enormously. The attention to detail in your staging was amazing. The way that you engaged, in particular with those at the back of the venue, and made everyone feel special showed that you genuinely care about your audience.
But I’m sad that your web site lets some of your most important fans — those who have special needs — down, in ways that you might not realise. Not that I blame you, you’re an artist, not a web designer or developer.
To be fair, yours isn’t the only country artist site that is inaccessible to people with disabilities. Both Shania Twain’s and Dolly Parton’s also make it either very difficult or impossible for some people to access their content. So I would like to show you how your site could be improved in small ways that would make a huge difference to a lot of people, with or without disabilities.
Your home page uses a combination of technologies that make it difficult (at best) and impossible (at worst) for your fans who have either visual impairments or cannot use a mouse to get to almost all of your content.
Your scrapbook looks fantastic, but everything inside it is invisible to people who people who do not or cannot have Flash installed on their computers (and to search engines like Google). Here is what people without Flash see on your site.
Flash is also not available on Apple’s iPhone or iPod Touch, so potentially thousands of fans, even those who have no disabilities, cannot access your news, media, community pages, calendar, tour dates. They also cannot find links to buy your merchandise or vote for you on People's Choice or Great American Country.
The fact that many of the links from your scrapbook open new browser windows adds another annoyance for people who use assistive technologies. These include partially sighted people who use screen magnifiers and people who are blind and use screen-reading software.
For these people, alternatives to images are vital. This
alt text turns a site from unusable to usable and takes only seconds to add to a site. Your home page links to your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube pages could be made instantly more accessible just by adding simple alt text to your images.
Finally, I’m sure that people with disabilities would love to join your mailing list — especially to learn about your news if your site itself can't help them. Unfortunately your signup form is also not accessible as it does not include labels for the email address and zip code fields. Fixing inaccessible forms will take an experienced web designer only a minute or two. (I have included the accessible form code for your designers to cut-and-paste into your site.)
Why am I writing this in public? It’s not to score points or to embarrass you. Accessibility is still a huge problem on the web and although things are changing slowly, there are still plenty of web designers and developers who can learn from the ways to improve sites like yours.
I know that you care about your fans and I’m sure that you would want every one to have access to everything on your site. I hope that you will talk to your management and to your web designers about accessibility. The effort needed to make your site accessible won’t be huge, but the benefits to everybody will be.
Love and happy holidays,
(On 24th December 2009, the site that this letter refers to was replaced.)