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:
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.
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.
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: