Web Accessibility

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality.

It is an important aspect of a company’s web presence, and can have a profound impact on their user-base and how their users interact with their company.

TheWAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) was set up by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) organisation, the governing body of standards and technologies used throughout the web (Founded by the creator of the WWW Tim Berners-Lee).

Moral Dimension

Ensuring your website is accessible means that people with various disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can also contribute to the Web.

Legal Dimension

In the UK, US and other places, it is law that all websites be accessible. Within Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act, makes it illegal for companies to provide an inferior service to, or discriminate against, a disabled person. This legislation extend to websites.

Despite all this, recent studies by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (UK) and the United Nations have shown that compliance has been very slow.

Business Dimension

Aside from the legal and moral obligations, there are compelling arguments to ensure WAI compatibility from a business perspective. There is a consensus that any site that conforms to the WAI guidelines benefits all users, irrespective of their abilities, due to the general improvements in site navigation and usability, download speed, content clarity and quality of mark-up that compliance provides.

Failing to make a website accessible could mean a very real loss in potential business. The competitive nature of business is born out of the advantages a company can rely on.

When you consider that people with disabilities, have a disposable income of £80 billion per year, in the UK alone and people aged over sixty years old have a large spending power, it would seem that ignoring these demographics could result in considerable financial losses.

The needs that Web accessibility aims to address include:

  • Visual: Visual impairments including blindness, various common types of low vision and poor eyesight, various types of color blindness;
  • Motor/Mobility: e.g. difficulty or inability to use the hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc., due to conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke;
  • Auditory: Deafness or hearing impairments, including individuals who are hard of hearing;Seizures: Photoepileptic seizures caused by visual strobe or flashing effects.
  • Cognitive/Intellectual: Developmental disabilities, learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc.), and cognitive disabilities of various origins, affecting memory, attention, developmental “maturity,” problem-solving and logic skills, etc.;

References

Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 2003, World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes

W3C, Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility

W3C 2008, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

W3C, Evaluation, Repair, and Transformation Tools for Web Content Accessibility

WebAIM 2003, The WAVE

HiSoftware 2003, Cynthia Says

Lynx for WindowsLynx for Mac

Ruderman J 2003, Validation Bookmarklets

Cast 2003, Bobby

Amputee Association of NSW ‘Lost’ website

A few years ago, we started working with the Amputee Association of NSW as a pro-bono technology partner. At that stage, we offered the association our assistance in building a website.

After some investigations, we realised that the association already had a website, but that the domain name registration had lapsed and so the site was no longer available on the internet. we then used “the wayback machine” to retrieve the old site information, and go about retrieving the information from it that was still relevant.

Further investigations led us to the fact that the site was previously hosted by Monash University Rehab Technology Research Unit, a quick phone call to them established that they had lost contact with the old maintainer of the website (a former member of AANSW), and the domain name had lapsed without notice (in-fact, they could still see the site locally, as the internal Monash DNS servers where still resolving the name within Monash).

We asked if they could give us a copy of the original site, and received a zip via email within minutes …

They then offered to host the site again for the association, which we where grateful for (as at that time we did not host clients websites).

This was how the Amputee Association of NSW committee found out that they had an old website, which had laid dormant for several years.

After much discussion, it was decided that a website built around a Content Management System would suit their needs best, as it would allow editing of content by authorised members without technical intervention.