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Why should we create accessible Web sites?

Introduction

Web accessibility has been an issue for disabled Internet users for many years. Oftentimes the needs of the disabled have been completely ignored or disregarded by Web developers. In recent years disability legislation has forced many Web developers to consider the needs of their disabled visitors and create accessible Web sites.

This article aims to highlight several compelling reasons why Web developers should try to create accessible Web sites.

Altruistic Reasons

Altruism can be defined as 'doing something because it is the right thing to do'. The Web is the best way yet of providing equal opportunities for all. Accessible Web sites improve the quality of life for millions of disabled users around the world - the disabled can enjoy the full benefits of the Web along with everyone else.

The following groups of people, including many non-disabled people, benefit from accessible Web sites.

  1. People who may not be able to see, hear, or move.
  2. People who may not be able to process some types of information easily, or at all.
  3. People who have difficulty reading or understanding text.
  4. People who do not have, or are not able to use, a keyboard or mouse.
  5. People who have a text-only screen, a small screen, or a slow Internet connection.
  6. People who do not speak or understand the language in which the document is written.
  7. People who are in a situation where their eyes, ears, or hands are busy (e.g. driving to work, working in a noisy / loud environment).
  8. People who have an old version of a browser, a non-standard browser, a voice browser, or a different operating system.
  9. People who do not have access to audio speakers.

Design Reasons

Accessible design benefits everyone. Web sites are easier to navigate, information is easier to locate, and Web pages download quickly. This will attract repeat visitors who will also tell their friends and colleagues, thus increasing the popularity of your site.

The following quote from the Digital Access Media Group is well worth considering.

‘Designing for disabled users in ordinary environments is the same as designing for non-disabled users in extraordinary environments.’

Designers should therefore design for extraordinary users. The result is a Web site which is accessible to a non-disabled user surfing the Internet with a non-standard browser using non-standard hardware.

This principal supports the original vision of Tim Berners-Lee, the director of the World Wide Web Consortium and inventor of the World Wide Web, who said:

‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’

Educational Reasons

There are dozens of different learning styles and theories, each one based on the characteristics, strengths and personality of the learners. Some students learn visually, others by hearing, still others kinaesthetically (touching and doing).

An accessible Web site will aim to meet the needs of each learner by presenting content in various ways. For example an accessible video or Flash animation should include moving images, sound and/or narration, and a transcript or explanation of the action. A static image should always include alternative text and may also require a longer description.

Financial Reasons

It makes economic sense for owners of e-business and commercial Web sites to design a site which can be accessed by the widest possible range of people. An accessible Web site ensures that your potential customer base is as large as possible.

The customer base will include more affluent visitors, perhaps using the very latest Internet browsing technology, who are able to access your Web site using their latest ‘gadget’.

An accessible Web site will also be more saleable to overseas markets. For example, distance learning courses could be sold in both US and European markets.

An accessible Web site also reduces bandwidth consumption because information is easier to find. This results in fewer 'errors' from site visitors and therefore less pages need to be requested from your server.

Legal Reasons

Disability legislation regarding Web accessibility has been passed in many countries around the world. The vast majority of these countries cite ‘WCAG AA’ as the benchmark in their definition of Web accessibility. The one main exception is the United States which has provided its’ own guidelines, namely Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

It is not my intention to go into a detailed discussion of Disability Legislation in this article (interested readers are directed to the 'Policies Relating to Web Accessibility' link below) but it is safe to say that Disability Legislation is here to stay.

An accessible Web site prevents developers from falling foul of any prospective legal problems, or at least provides an excellent defence!

Selfish Reasons

Good Web accessibility techniques help search engines to better index Web sites and improve rankings. For example, alternative text for graphics can be optimised for search engines by well thought-out and relevant keywords.

The skills of the Web developer will be drastically improved if they know how to write good (X)HTML - a key skill needed to create accessible Web sites. This makes the developer more employable and able to command a higher salary.

Employers benefit from having highly skilled staff who may well be more motivated, effective, and productive. Staff retention may be a factor - other employers may attempt to 'head-hunt' key personnel.

Conclusion

This article is intended to highlight just a few of the benefits to be gained by creating accessible Web sites. I'm sure that you can think of many others. The following links reinforce and repeat much of what is written above and mention other benefits as well.

Supporting Links

Digital Media Access Group - Why Web Accessibility?

Learning Styles - Theory Into Practice Database

SSB Technologies - Business Case for Accessibility

W3C WAI - Auxiliary Benefits of Accessible Web Design

W3C WAI - Policies Relating to Web Accessibility

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