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Is Your Website Designed to Provide Access for the Disabled?

May 20, 2008
Is your website accessible to people with disabilities? It seems like today, website owners are more concerned with mobile web design than they are with making their sites available to the millions of people around the world with disabilities. It makes sense from a business perspective to make your website as accessible as possible to everyone, but it is also becoming a legal matter and much for many businesses and organizations.

The World Wide Web is classified as a form of Information and Communications Technology, or ICT. Laws and policies regarding ICT accessibility that are already in existence are being considered in terms of the Internet. In addition, more and more legislation addressing ICT accessibility is being enacted around the world.

Although the Internet is for the most part unregulated, laws can apply to the Web as ICT. Many countries currently have government laws, policies, regulations and recommendations in place regarding Web accessibility. An abbreviated list of these countries includes: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Spain the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Internet Accessibility

In the United States, rulings regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) resulted in the determination that State as well as local governments and the business sector must provide "effective communication" during Internet communications.

A significant point of the ADA policy rulings is that communications in graphical format are almost impossible for people with visual disabilities to understand. Screenreaders cannot make sense of graphic images: text format is absolutely essential, including text for navigational tools, graphs, tables and charts.

You can find out more about the ADA and rulings regarding the Internet at the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) website.

Implementing Universal Design

Whether laws are governing your website today or not, it is in your best interest to make your site accessible to all Internet users - especially if it is a business website. How can you accomplish this? By implementing the elements of Universal Design on all of your web pages. Your entire website will then be available to the widest range of Internet users possible, regardless of the type of technology or equipment they use, disabilities, age, or level of education.

The following are some of the specific ways you can apply Universal Design principles to your website:

1. Provide text browser support

2. Present documents in text format rather than in frames or PDF

3. Avoid requiring visitors to download software to view information

4. Add "Alt" tags to your graphics so screenreaders can "read" images

5. Hyperlink all photos with descriptive text

6. Hyperlink video and audio clips with captioning

7. Provide email or voice/TTY phone number alternatives for on-line forms

8. Avoid relying on color to convey information

You can obtain more complete information about website accessibility guidelines from resources such as W3 online.

Depending on your skills, you may or may not need assistance redesigning or developing your next website for full accessibility. Whether you make changes to your website design yourself or rely on professional assistance, remember to evaluate the results.

There are many free evaluation tools available online that can help you test web pages on your site for accessibility. For a comprehensive evaluation that would ensure compliance with web accessibility laws, you will need to rely on the expertise of a knowledgeable professional as well as evaluation tools.

Additional Benefits of Web Accessibility

Whether you need to bring your website to full web accessibility standards to comply with legal requirements, or you're primarily interested in providing access to those with disabilities, you'll discover some surprising additional benefits.

A website with a flexible design is more accessible to people browsing the Web with limited technology, such as dial-up Internet connections or outdated computers. Your fully accessible website will also be available to those with temporary disabilities, such as people recovering from surgery or accidents. With the right equipment, even people with limited or no literacy skills will be able to browse your website.

Regardless of what type of website you have, focusing on web accessibility will benefit your visitors as well as your business in a variety of ways.
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