What Is Accessibility?

In the last decade, the role of the Internet as a source of information, communication and social interaction has increased to a point where it is now a fundamental lifestyle tool. The issue of accessibility for disabled users soon became apparent. While technology existed to allow navigation of a computer, the structure of web pages can conflict with these technologies and the way they present web content. Coyne and Nielsen (2001 cited in Slatin and Rush, 2003, p.8) found “users with disabilities were about three times less likely to succeed...in carrying out such routine Web tasks as searching for information and making purchases.” Recently, designs have become more visually elaborate and new functions such as streaming video and flash animation can cause further issues for disabled users.

In order to resolve them, United States Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1998 to ensure that:

“...individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to...the public who are not individuals with disabilities.” (United States Congress, 1998)

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) drafted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, known as 'WCAG 1.0'. This explains how to make web content including text, images and video as accessible as possible. It was amended in December 2008 and is now known as 'WCAG 2.0'. This is the most current set of guidelines available to which designers and developers must adhere.

WCAG 2.0 seeks to ensure websites are made accessible to users with disabilities such as decreased sensory, motor and cognitive ability. Additionally, Slatin and Rush (2003, p.10) state “good design is accessible design” suggesting that following the guidelines creates an accessible website to benefit any user, disabled or not.

For businesses, improving accessibility is beneficial. After re-launching an improved website in 2006, Legalandgeneral.com saw “...a 66% saving in maintenance costs, a 30% increase in natural search engine traffic, a 75% reduction in time to load a page and an additional 13,000 visitors each month...” (AbilityNet, 2006). The financial incentive of accessibility shouldn't be the sole reason for it's implementation. Designer and client have a moral and legal obligation to design to accessibility standards. Discrimination is never a good selling point.

Fig.1 - Screenshot from Legalandgeneral.com (2009)

Fig.1 - Screenshot from Legalandgeneral.com (2009)

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