Should we even bother? Do people actually look at those things?
Research findings are somewhat contradictory.
It's common knowledge that users scan Web pages instead of reading them word by word. That implies pull-quotes are a good thing, because they draw a scanning eye's attention.
In contrast, other research -- most notably the Stanford-Poynter EyeTracking Online News study -- shows that users' eyes fixate on text instead of graphics. That implies pull-quotes, which are more graphical elements than textual content, are ignored.
With that in mind, I'll conveniently side-step the issue of whether pull-quotes are effective online. (Personally, I think they're a waste of space and bandwidth; but I see how some people might think they're useful.) Instead, what I'd like to point out is their inaccessibility. Web pull-quotes generally are designed with no consideration given to non-graphical browsers.
For an example, see the recent BBC News article "Virtual hands reach across the ocean," which has a pull-quote toward the end of the story:
In the ground-breaking experiment the participants are sharing a view of a virtual room containing a large black box. Their task - to work together to lift the black box despite being separated by the Atlantic.
It enhances the sense of being together even though the physical distances involved are vast
Professor Mel Slater
One of the big problems the experimenters had to overcome was the delay caused by sending data over the net.
See how the quote innocently makes its way into the article? A user reading this article in Lynx -- or via other text-only browser or screen reader -- probably won't be able to tell that this is an outside quote. It looks like it's part of the story, not an interruption in story flow.
Now, before I go further, I should point out the BBC does make accessible, text-only versions of all its pages. (Here's a text-only version of the above article, which does not include the pull-quote.) I chose the above example because it precisely shows why there is a need for the alternate versions the BBC is kind enough to provide.
That said, if your publication doesn't have the resources to create an alternate site, how could we make the above pull-quote more accessible?
My suggestion is to use a "skip" link, as explained in Day 11 of the Dive Into Accessibility series. It's as simple as providing an inner-page link before the quote and pointing that link to the content just after the quote ends. Like so:
<p>This is the first sentence in the story.</p>
<a href="#skipquote">Continue reading story</a>
<!-- code for pull-quote goes here -->
<p><a name="skipquote">This</a> is the second sentence in the story.</p>