Article by Manasi Gandhi

All content on the web needs to be accessible. The term “web accessibility” refers to removing any difficulties in accessing the web so that people with different abilities can use it to accomplish everyday tasks, despite their visual, hearing, cognitive, age-related or other limitations. This includes adding alt-text to images, making proper use of headings, captioning videos and so on.

The virtual world is an extension of the physical world. Most people access the internet daily using various devices like computers, laptops, tablets, mobiles etc. There is an overall awareness about the concept of accessibility in the physical world. For example, we cannot imagine public spaces without ramps. But most people are not aware of the concept of web accessibility.

David Banes, Director of David Banes Access and Inclusion Services, says, “Certainly there is an issue as to whether web accessibility is required. If it is not mandated by law, it can be considered by some as an added functionality that costs money. Secondly, I think that web access is mostly invisible, unlike ramps, door openers. It means that we only perceive it when it is not there, creating barriers.”

The laws and standards pertaining to web accessibility are in place but can be confusing to some. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) which develops standards to make digital resources accessible and usable. So, is it mandatory to abide by web accessibility standards? From the US standpoint, compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, enacted in 1998 to eliminate barriers in information technology (IT), is mandatory for federal agencies. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), however, does not define a technical standard for web accessibility. With the anticipated changes in ADA, it becomes necessary that everyone involved should plan on creating accessible web resources.

The term “web accessibility” refers to removing any difficulties in accessing the web so that people with different abilities can use it to accomplish everyday tasks, despite their visual, hearing, cognitive, age-related or other limitations.

Ensuring web accessibility is a team effort. Web developers have a role to play. Assistive technologies, like screen readers, magnification software etc., can only work with websites if the code is written accurately by the developers. Technical communicators need to pitch in their efforts while developing content that is accessible to people with varying abilities, more so as the line between the web developer and technical communicator roles blur with the emergence of structured authoring and the concept of writing docs as code. User experience professionals could include personas of people with disabilities in their research.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2011 Disability Report, there are more than 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. Thus, web accessibility makes perfect sense. Even if you believe that you are not legally bound  by web accessibility standards, complying with them only means that you cater to more users. This means increased profits for businesses and avoidance of potential lawsuits.

Educational institutions could also incorporate web accessibility into their curriculum, which is currently a lacking feature. This will not only increase student awareness about the concept but also prepare them for their future professions and possibly fill the gap of web accessibility specialists in the job market. Above everything, it means we care. Let’s make web accessibility a priority, not an afterthought.