The importance of web accessibility
Communications technology has the power to connect and liberate. From the telegraph to the telephone, to the digital advances of the internet age, technological advances have consistently opened up new worlds and exciting possibilities.
In the case of the internet, its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, explicitly articulated the ideal of digital inclusion very early on, stating: ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’
Failure to connect
Yet so much of the community’s digital experience is still one of online exclusion. Why, well into the new Millennium and with the internet now a mature twentysomething, do so many people with disabilities still feel excluded from its virtual reach?
The web has the potential to significantly ameliorate the lives of many people with hearing, sight, movement and cognitive disabilities, and yet research and anecdotal evidence suggests it is singularly failing to do so. A portal which could be transformative in its ability to enable connection, information and support at a single touch or command, is proving in this respect to be not fit for purpose.
Rights and responsibilities
Web accessibility matters for people with disabilities to the extent that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities lists it as a basic human right, and an important conduit to social inclusion. It’s time pressure was ramped up on businesses and organisations to fulfil the obligation they have to facilitate this right.
Thoughtfully designed websites and properly considered web tools can be accessible to people with disabilities. By including alternative text for images, for example, it makes the images accessible to users with visual disabilities who use screen readers. Similarly, providing all functionality through the keyboard ensures those who cannot use a mouse, or use assistive technologies to replicate keyboard functionality are not denied access. Text transcripts of audio clips for people with hearing impairment will let them access the internet far more fully.
The way forward
These are simple modifications. To achieve them will probably be less simple. There’s a need for greater education of businesses and organisations in their obligations to disabled people, and the need for more people with disabilities to be working in the tech industries that perpetuate exclusion. There’s also the need to let businesses and organisations know the huge market opportunity they’re missing out on when people with disabilities are locked out of accessing information and communication opportunities, and to browse, shop and consume. Poor digital experience does not make a loyal customer and they will just click away.
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