Scarcity and Accessibility

Not everyone has free unlimited wireless internet access.

And when you don’t have free unlimited wireless internet access, you learn that things like page weight (in other words, the file sizes of all the elements on a web page: images, audio, video, style sheets, etc.) become very, very important to you.

I learned this lesson when I visited South Africa to present at the Content Strategy Forum in Cape Town. If you’ve ever been to a web-related conference before, you’ll know that attendees put a pretty heavy demand on wi-fi access. The hotel next to the venue—the conference center on the grounds of the Spier winery, a gorgeous facility—had an interesting way of providing wireless internet access to their guests: they rationed it.

Each hotel guest was given a voucher for 100mb with a unique username and password. When you ran out, you went to the front desk to get a new voucher. If you needed more than your daily allotment of 100mb, you could pay for more access.

Here’s a photo of the voucher:

100 Rand is equivalent to about $11.50 or £7

One of the conference sponsors, Skyrove, also gave out free 40mb vouchers to all attendees.

While I was in South Africa, Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States, where I live. Communicating with my family, the travel agent, getting updates on airport closures and train service became extremely important. But a lot of the sites that I used had pretty hefty page weights.

  • search results page: 2.7mb
  • Google maps directions page: 2.6 mb
  • Twitter feed: 1.3 mb

That’ll eat up a 40mb wi-fi voucher very, very quickly.

My solution to making the vouchers last as long as possible was to turn off images. That worked well on the sites that provide alt text for images. But not every site does this well (when they do it at all.) Turning off javascript would have lightened the page weight as well.

Accessibility is extremely important for people with physical limitations. But don’t forget that accessibility may be crucial for people facing situational limitations as well.


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