An Overview of Web Accessibility

An Overview of Web Accessibility

When websites and web tools such as apps and documents are properly designed and coded, people with disabilities can use them. Simple as that. However, currently, many websites, digital products and tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use.

The truth is that making the digital realm accessible to everyone benefits everyone; individuals, businesses, and society. International web standards are being developed and continually updated to define what is needed for accessibility, but there is a long way to go to get to broad accessibility overall.

The World Wide Web recently marked its 30th-anniversary milestone, and the goal for it to be fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location or ability, is still a work in progress. The idea is for the WWW, the internet and all digital products and tools to be accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive abilities.

The impact of disability on a person is often radically changed online because, in theory, the Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world. In practice, this goal has not yet been fully met, and when websites, applications, technologies, or tools are badly designed they can create additional barriers that exclude people from using digital media.

Accessibility is essential for developers and organizations that want to create high-quality websites, apps and other web tools, and not exclude people from using their products and services.

True accessibility will allow people of all capacities to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web and digital properties, and also allow them to contribute in ways that they can.

The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more, for everyone. Digital technology must be accessible to everyone to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.

Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

According to the WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative, web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • auditory

  • cognitive

  • neurological

  • physical

  • speech

  • visual

Accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, such as:

  • people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.

  • older people with changing abilities due to ageing

  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses

  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio

  • people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth

Not to be underestimated is the strong motivation for businesses to embrace accessibility. Accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). Accessible websites can have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, increased audience reach, and demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Last but not least, digital accessibility is required by law in many situations, and the uptick in lawsuits and expensive judgements is still playing out.

For a 7-minute video with examples of how accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for everyone in a variety of situations, see:

Web Accessibility Perspectives Video (YouTube)