The Web Design Team's WDTzine Presents...

Accessibility - Part I
(and why is it important?)
By Cheryl D. Wise of WiserWays LLC

“Accessibility” is one of the new "buzzwords" that you hear much about but may wonder what it really means and whether or not it is something you should be concerned with in creating or maintaining your website. Today we'll be defining what is an ‘accessibile’ site. What constitutes a disability when using the web. (Hint it is more than blind people.)

From there we will move into the reasons you should implement accessibility into your website. Followed with specifics of how to make your site accessible under §508 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (akaWAI).

What is “Web Accessibility”?

You hear a lot about accessibility but it is very hard to find a definition. It maybe defined as removing barriers to access by people with a disability that interferes with their ability to use the Internet. Other definitions include enabling visitors with a physical or mental impairment to participate fully in the Internet experience.

Who Is Affected When A Site Is Not Accessible

Depending on whose statistics you believe there are 10-28% of the U.S. population that have some sort of impairment that makes using the Internet more difficult than for those who are not impaired. These impairments are classified by type.

  1. Visually Impaired - This category includes those who have no usable site as well as the larger group that have impaired vision. Those who have no vision would normally use some sort of assistive device or special software to access the web. While those with low vision may not use anything at all to aid in web browsing. This includes those who are color blind as well.
  2. Hearing Impaired - With the exception of multimedia most hearing impaired are not impaired in their use of the internet.
  3. Mobility Impaired - This group includes those who have limited or no ability to use traditional means of input such as the mouse and keyboard. This type of impairment can range from the extreme of a person who uses a headstick or puff/sip to communicate with their browser to someone with carpel tunnel syndrome or arthritis that limits but not eliminates the ability to use a keyboard/mouse. Impairments that do no affect browser usage such as a paraplegic is not part of this group.
  4. Cognitive Impairment - Down's Syndrome is a classic example in this category but there are many others who fall in this category that are not so obvious. A person with dyslexia or other learning disability for example may have difficulty with many sites that would not affect someone with another type of impairment.
  5. Seizure Disorders - Screen flickers with in the range of 2 Hz to 55 Hz can cause people with seizure disorders such as epilepsy to have a seizure. This is not a problem for most websites but there have been some animated advertisements that have caused seizures.

Benefits Of Having An Accessible Site

In addition to the groups identified above the general web population benefits from accessible sites since accessible sites benefit those without disabilities as well.

  1. Increase Market Share - If you site is more accessible than that of your competition those who benefit from accessibility will prefer to do business with you.
  2. Increase Site Usability - When a site is designed with accessibility in mind care is give to site structure, navigation and content that generally results in a more usable site for all visitors.
  3. Decrease Maintenance Cost - Sites written to accessibility standards incorporate features such as separation of content from presentation that makes additions and changes to the site less expensive than sites written with "tag soup" and sniffing for browser specific solutions.
  4. Search Engine Friendly - Sites that are written to standards us proper mark-up and include relevant descriptions in alt and title tags can result in higher search engine ranking than sites that do not use appropriate mark-up and alt tags.
  5. Preferred Vendor Status - If you do business with the U.S. government agencies or state agencies there are regulations that require those entities to purchase from those business who comply with §508 over those who do not.
  6. Avoidance of Legal Liability - I have been unable to find any private business held liable under anti-discrimination laws for not having an accessible site but there have been suits filed alleging discrimination based on sites not being accessible. Recent examples include: Southwest Airlines
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Accessibility- Part II

WiserWays - Cheryl D. Wise

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