There’s a huge amount of articles about accessibility on the web, but most of them assume a fair bit of knowledge on the topic already or are geared towards web professionals. This is aimed towards someone who’s new to online business or needs to get familiar with what accessibility because they’re responsible for a website.
First of all, a lot of people use the terms “usability” and “accessibility” as if they are the same thing. They are related but they’re definitely not the same thing.
Usability is how easy a website (or anything, for that matter) is to use without you needing to be the person who made it and knows where everything is already. We’ve all used websites that are infuriating because it just doesn’t make sense why they put the information you’re after in an obscure place or you have to jump through lots of hoops to get to it.
Accessibility refers whether it’s possible for a person with disabilities or special needs to access the information on a website at all. Usability and accessibility are not the same thing because bad usability is a problem for everybody, bad accessibility is a problem for disabled users.
Why should website managers go to all this trouble?
For a start, it’s a legal requirement; not having an accessible website is disability discrimination. In Australia, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, people with a disability should have equal access to online services and information – especially government information.
Furthermore, “the (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities asserts the right of people with a disability to participate fully and independently in all aspects of society, including the internet and access to information.”
But despite this, many people don’t put resources towards making their websites accessible because there’s a common misconception that there aren’t many people out there with a disability or special needs, so accessibility is only a niche market.
However, (and the Atrophiedmind blog puts it nicely): “According to the World Health Organisation, one in seven of the world’s population has some kind of disability. 1 Billion plus people is not a niche market.”
In Australia, just under one in five people (18.5% or 4.0 million people) reported having a disability in 2009.
The sorts of disabilities included in these figures are:
As the figures show, this is a really big segment of the population, so if you’re website doesn’t cater for users with special needs, you’re missing out on a big market.
This market is getting bigger too.
“In the Western world the populations are ageing, improvements in healthcare are helping people live longer – this means that the number of people who require assistance coping with age related conditions is only going to grow … there are likely to be ever increasing numbers of people with poor vision, hearing loss, limited mobility and cognitive difficulties and we need to ensure that they are not excluded.” – Atrophiedmind blog
For these reasons, because more services for our day to day life are moving onto the web and with the wider availability of broadband more people are connecting to web services than ever before, accessibility will be a growing concern for the future of the web.