Definition: Defining the Meaning of Web Accessibility
Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent access to websites by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. On 11 December 2008, the WAI released the WCAG 2.0 as a Recommendation. WCAG 2.0 aims to be up to date and more technology neutral. Though web designers can choose either standard to follow, the WCAG 2.0 have been widely accepted as the definitive guidelines on how to create accessible websites. Governments are steadily adopting the WCAG 2.0 as the accessibility standard for their own websites.
You may be wondering what on earth has building and designing websites have to do with disabilities and the disabled? Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.
Government departments in most countries are required by law to provide accessible websites and in the UK it is law that websites must be accessible to the disabled, including the blind.
But how can a blind person view a website, I hear you ask.
Well they can't "see" the page in the sense a sighted person can so they use a tool called a screen reader. You can find more information on screen readers here, but basically a screen reader is a software application on your computer that attempts to identify and interpret what is being displayed on the computer screen, in this case a web page. This interpretation is then represented to the user with text-to-speech, sound icons, or a braille output device.
Currently most Web sites and Web software have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to use the Web. As more accessible Web sites and software become available, people with disabilities are able to use and contribute to the Web more effectively.
Assistive technologies used for web browsing:
Individuals living with a disability use assistive technologies such as the following to enable and assist web browsing:
- Access to subtitled or sign language videos on the Internet for all deaf people.
- Keyboard overlays, which can make typing easier and more accurate for those who have motor control difficulties.
- Screen magnification software, which enlarges what is displayed on the computer monitor, making it easier to read for vision impaired users.
- Speech recognition software that can accept spoken commands to the computer, or turn dictation into grammatically correct text - useful for those who have difficulty using a mouse or a keyboard.
- Braille terminals, consisting of a Refreshable Braille display which renders text as Braille characters (usually by means of raising pegs through holes in a flat surface) and either a mainstream keyboard or a Braille keyboard.
- Screen reader software, which can read out, using synthesized speech, either selected elements of what is being displayed on the monitor (helpful for users with reading or learning difficulties), or which can read out everything that is happening on the computer (used by blind and vision impaired users).
Much of the focus on Web accessibility has been on the responsibilities of Web developers. However, Web software also has a vital role in Web accessibility. Software needs to help developers produce and evaluate accessible Web sites, and be usable by people with disabilities.
When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality. For example, when a site is coded with semantically meaningful HTML, with textual equivalents provided for images and with links named meaningfully, this helps blind users using text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware.
- When text and images are large and/or enlargeable, it is easier for users with poor sight to read and understand the content.
- When flashing effects are avoided or made optional, users prone to seizures caused by these effects are not put at risk.
- When content is written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations, users with dyslexia and learning difficulties are better able to understand the content.
- When clickable links and areas are large, this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision.
- When pages are coded so that users can navigate by means of the keyboard alone, or a single switch access device alone, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or even a standard keyboard.
- When sites are correctly built and maintained, all of these users can be accommodated while not impacting on the usability of the site for non-disabled users.
- When links are underlined (or otherwise differentiated) as well as colored, this ensures that color blind users will be able to notice them.
- When videos are closed captioned or a sign language version is available, deaf and hard of hearing users can understand the video.
Quick Facts: Web Accessibility
Web accessibility 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 people using a slow Internet connection, people with "temporary disabilities" such as a broken arm, and people with changing abilities due to aging. The document "Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization" describes many different benefits of Web accessibility, including benefits for organizations.
Statistics: U.S. Disability
According to figures released by the Census Bureau on July 25, 2012, 56.7 million Americans (18.7% of the U.S. population) have some type of disability and out of this number, an estimated 38.3 million (12.6%) have a severe disability. Consider impairments that impact accessibility of online websites, applications, and documents.
This survey estimates the number of people with specific impairments as follows:
- 15.2 million (6.3%) have a cognitive, mental, or emotional impairment.
- 19.9 million (8.2%) have difficulty lifting or grasping. This could, for example impact their use of a mouse or keyboard.
- 7.6 million (3.1%) have a hearing impairment. They might rely on transcripts and / or captions for audio and video media.
- 8.1 million (3.3%) have a vision impairment. These people might rely on a screen magnifier or a screen reader, or might have a form of color blindness.
World Facts and Statistics on Disabilities and Disability Issues