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).
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.
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.
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.;
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 Windows; Lynx for Mac
Ruderman J 2003, Validation Bookmarklets
Cast 2003, Bobby