The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect of the Internet. (“Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web )
Accessible web design refers to the philosophy and practice of designing web content so that it can be navigated and read by everyone, regardless of location, experience, or the type of computer technology used. Accessible web design is usually discussed in relation to people with a disability, because this group is most likely to be disadvantaged if the principles of accessible web design are not implemented. Failure to follow these principles can make it difficult or impossible for people with a disability to access web content.
Equal Access and the Web
Availability of information and services in electronic form via the web has the potential to provide equal access for people with a disability, and to provide access more broadly, more cheaply and more quickly than is possible using other formats. For example:
- People who are blind or have low vision can use appropriate hardware and software (assistive technology, or AT) to gain access to banking services, online grocery shopping, and electronic documents in Braille, audio or large print form;
- Deaf people, and people who have hearing impairments, can have more immediate access to captioning or transcription of audio material;
- Many people whose disability makes it difficult for them to handle or read paper pages can use a computer, for example with a modified keyboard or with voice control;
- Web publications may provide an effective means of access for people whose disability makes it difficult for them to travel to or enter premises where the paper form of a document is available.
By itself, however, the presence of a document or service on the web does not guarantee accessibility. For example:
- Current screen-reading software is not able to interpret information or links presented only in graphical or “image-only” format;
- Content provided only in audio format will not be accessible to Deaf people or some people with hearing impairments unless a text alternative is provided;
- Although users can determine many aspects of colour, size and print font of output for themselves, some approaches to text form or colour will render access difficult or impossible for users who have low vision (and in some cases for many other users also).
Further, people with a disability have lower average incomes than other members of the community because of the extremely high unemployment rate among people with a disability. As a result, they often do not have access to state-of-the-art technologies. So even if access is technically possible, a web resource may not provide reasonable access in practice.
On the basis of available expert information, it is reasonable to conclude that it is technically feasible to remove most barriers to the equal access of web resources by people with a disability, and that this may be done in a way that does not detract from the usefulness or attractiveness of the web to other users. In many cases, incorporating accessibility features will actually benefit all users.