Website accessibility: Part 1

Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 1 No. 4, Jan. 6, 2003

Disability legislation serves a small minority, a tiny special interest group. Compliance with accessibility standards requires an undue burden of time, money and resources. Accessible websites are boring and unattractive. If you believe these statements are true, please read on:

  • The Disability Statistics Center estimates that 54 million people, or 20.6 percent of all Americans, have some level of disability, including 10 percent who have a severe disability.
  • America’s population is aging, and disability increases with age. The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to increase 135 percent between 1995 and 2050, according to the Census Bureau.
  • According to the Census Bureau, 9.7 million people in the United States have difficulty seeing the words and letters in ordinary newsprint, equal to 5 percent of the total population.
  • Another 10.9 million people, or nearly 6 percent of the total population, have difficulty hearing what is said in an ordinary conversation with another person, according to Census Bureau statistics.

The World Wide Web provides technological advances that can help eliminate many barriers for people with disabilities. It can deliver information and services in ways unimagined not many years ago, but it can also create barriers for persons with disabilities. For many of us, using the Web has become a common experience of having the world “at your fingertips” at the click of a mouse — if you can use a mouse and if you can see the screen and if you can hear the audio. In other words, if you don’t have any disabilities.

“What does ‘Web accessibility’ mean?” Chuck Letourneau of Starling Access Services explained, “To me, it means that anyone using any kind of Web browsing technology must be able to visit any site and get a full and complete understanding of the information contained there, as well as have the full and complete ability to interact with the site. “

A visually impaired person might use screen-reader technology. Some websites are simple and do a good job of describing their content, including pictures and charts. Others are confusing or simply too dense to translate by reading a description.

A wheelchair user might navigate the Web with a trackball. But many people with mobility impairments cannot use a trackball; they need mouse-less ways to navigate and clear, simple organization. Voice-recognition technology could make sites accessible for people who can’t use their hands.

Hearing-impaired Internet users can be frustrated by online newscasts and streamed video webpages that do not provide either closed captioning or transcripts. After all, film reports of emergency crews milling around a disaster without additional context or explanation don’t mean much; it could be any time, anywhere, any calamity.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization of more than 500 organizations has been developing common protocols and standards for the Web since 1994. It offers a checklist of Web accessibility standards organized into three priority levels. Web designers can measure their own sites according to these internationally recognized standards and find suggestions for how to improve accessibility and usability.

hendersonl | Monday, January 6, 2003 | |


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