Why It's an Issue Nonprofits Should Make a Priority
By: Jayne Cravens
Why Is Accessibility on the Internet Important?
- Would you construct a building for your organization that was not accessible for someone using a wheelchair?
- Would your agency have a promotional event at a club that excluded certain people from attending?
- Would you produce a brochure with a color scheme that rendered it unreadable to those with color vision impairments?
- Would you want to build a Web site that some potential clients, customers, staff, press representatives or others would not be able to access?
Most everyone would reply to the questions above with a resounding "no." And, yet, people with disabilities are often locked out of Web sites because their needs are not considered when web sites are designed.
More than 49 million Americans have some type of disability. U.S. Census data indicates that one in every five Americans has a disability. As our society grows proportionally older, the need for disability access will increase along with these numbers. You might want to consider YOURSELF "temporarily abled."
Internet User Scenarios to Consider
- A sight-impaired person may use a Web browser that reads content on a Web page aloud, and this software is often "confused" by image maps, frames, java scripts and other Web design elements that have not been properly configured for them.
- A deaf person requires a text version of audio information that is available on a web site to be able to use the site as designed.
- Some people cannot perceive certain colors correctly, and may not be able to see light-colored type on colored backgrounds.
- Someone with limited hand movement may not be able to hold down more than one key on their keyboard at once. Well-designed Web menus provide alternative navigation methods.
- Just as buildings are designed to facilitate wheelchair navigation through halls and doorways, there are ways to accommodate access for many more users to your company's online communications. If you construct a building, it's easier and cheaper to put in access for people with disabilities during the initial construction than to add it on later. The same is true of Web.
- Many environmental barriers to people with disabilities can be removed by making minor modifications or adjustments. The same is true of Web sites!
- Designing a web site to be accessible to people using assistive technologies and others with disabilities is very simple and costs nothing if it is done as you build your Web site. Making accommodations on your Web site for the greatest number of users increases the availability and usefulness of those materials. If systems are flexible enough to meet the needs and preferences of the broadest range of users of computers and telecommunications equipment, regardless of age or disability, your potential audience is immediately increased by millions of users.
Tools Created For One Group Can Serve Everyone
- Wheelchair ramps were created for people in wheel chairs and walkers or for those who cannot otherwise use steps easily because of impairment. However, they are also used by people pushing strollers, people with young children, mail carriers pushing bins of mail, and many others.
- Closed captioning on TV was created for people with hearing impairments. However, it's also used by people learning English or learning to read, and by bars and restaurants with television displays, allowing customers to follow the broadcast despite the noise of a crowd or a band.
- Large bathroom stalls were created for people in wheelchairs. However, they are also used by parents with children, or people who need to be assisted by another person.
- The lesson here is clear: the computer tools you develop with accessibility in mind will probably serve a much broader audience. For instance, many of the suggestions we make here will give HTML authors more control over pages and will often shorten page download times for all users. They will also allow users browsing the web via their cell phones to access your site.
It's About Alternatives, Not What You "Can't" Do
Some designers initially think that making a Web site accessible is going to mean curbing creativity and fun in designs. Not so! Curricula on accessible web site design do not discourage particular design elements. Rather, they provide alternative ways to achieve effects and allows even more people to have access to your work. Making an accessible site does not limit your creativity; in fact, many web sites that have won awards for their designs are also fully accessible.
The U.S. federal government has studied the issue of accessibility from the perspective of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the work of the WAI. In mid-1999, the government implemented standards of accessibility that are aimed at ensuring that web sites operated by companies doing business with government agencies are fully accessible to people with disabilities. People with disabilities and other disadvantaging conditions want the same things as anyone else in society - the opportunity to learn, to work, and to earn a higher standard of living. Over 70% of people with disabilities who are willing and able to work are unemployed. Dr. James Caldwell, Chair of the Texas Governor's Committee on People With Disabilities has said that "The current potential for using technology to level the playing field for people with disabilities is unprecedented. We must create systematic ways for communities to realize that potential." We have the technology to engage the skills, talents and other resources of millions of people who are eager to participate. Are you going to turn these potential supporters away?