Most people in today’s society can’t imagine life without the Internet. With just a click of a mouse, the world is at your “finger tips”–for those who have the ability to use a mouse, and see the screen–for those who have the ability to see, and hear the video’s audio—for those who can hear. In other words, the Internet is fully accessible to those people without any kind of disability. Websites have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to interact or simply access the information on them. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
Accessible websites can provide people with disabilities the opportunity to do everyday activities such as reading and learning, working, shopping, communicating with friends and family, and simply participating in society as a whole. Despite the web’s great potential for people with disabilities, this potential is still largely unrealized. For example, some websites can only be navigated using a mouse, and only a very small percentage of video or multimedia content has been captioned for the Deaf. What if the internet content is only accessible by using a mouse? What do people do if they can’t use a mouse? And what if web developers use graphics instead of text? If screen readerscan only read text, how would they read the graphics to people who are blind?
Though estimates vary, most studies find that about one fifth (20%) of the population has some kind of disability. Not all of these people have disabilities that interfere with their ability to access websites, but it is still a significant portion of the population (WebAIM, 2014) . It wouldn’t benefit Businesses to exclude 20 percent of their potential customers from their websites. For schools, universities, and government entities in many cases, it would also violate the law.
Often times Accessibility is viewed as a costly and daunting task. Accessibility is not simply about the implementation of an accessible website, but also involves considering accessibility during the design phase and testing to make a fully accessible website. Although accessibility should be given the same consideration as both design and usability testing, it’s often an afterthought, or implemented only at a client’s request. Another important factor that businesses don’t usually consider is that Web accessibility in some instances, is required by various laws and policies such as Section 508.
Web accessibility doesn’t only benefit those with disabilities, it also benefits people without disabilities. For example, a key principle of Web accessibility is designing Web sites and software that are flexible to meet different user needs, preferences, and situations. This flexibility also benefits people without disabilities in certain situations, such as the following:
- On a website, alternative text provides image information for non-visual users, and it also benefits users who read tooltips, use a text-only browser, or can’t use images due to enhanced security.
- For text on websites, high contrast color palettes help users with low vision to distinguish content, but they are also are useful to users in poorly lit environments.
- Online video captions can provide the same benefit to a user in a loud environment that they provide to a deaf user.
- Registration form labels make it easier to activate adjacent form fields is a benefit to those whose fingers are too large for their small screen.
Others who may benefit from accessible technology might include:
- People in distracting environments, such as the bus, the gym, or another noisy public location.
- People with low literacy skills, non-native language speakers.
- People consuming information with difficult, complex, or specialized terminology.
- Mobile and small-screen users.
- Inexperienced technology users.
Apart from the well-known business reasons and legal grounds, building accessible websites serves the important role of promoting a culture of inclusion. The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, etc. And therefore it is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.
Be sure to check back for the rest of our blog posts this month which focuses on website accessibility. Blog posts will include such things as who is required by law to have accessible websites, what steps are necessary to make websites accessible, and various accessibility testing options.
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