Accessibility and Your Website

Is your website accessible? Before you consider the answer to this question, you must first understand what accessibility is. Too many times, accessibility is wrongly viewed as usability when accessibility actually addresses the way people with disabilities interact with your website. Whether visually, physically, or mentally impaired, all users should be able to navigate, understand and interact with your site.

The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 ensures that there is non discriminatory access to goods and services. In other words, websites must provide the same level of access to all individuals, regardless of their impairment.

Although not normally enforced, the potential for legal action is real. In 1999, Bruce Maguire filed a complaint concerning the web site of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Maguire vs. SOCOG, 2000). He stated that the website was not accessible to him as a blind person. In 2000, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission agreed and fined the SOCOG $20,000.

In addition to the legal aspects of accessibility, ensuring your website is accessible is a good ethical practice. Australia is a signatory to a number of international human rights agreements including the 1993 United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities. It instructs designers to “develop strategies to make information services and documentation accessible for different groups of persons with disabilities.” Although this is not legislation, it is still important to consider when designing your site and related content.

As you are well aware, if your web site is difficult to navigate or understand you will lose potential business. It is important to remember that people with disabilities represent a portion of your current and future customers. By not addressing accessibility, you are greatly restricting their ability to navigate or understand your site, losing valuable customers in the process. These issues should be prioritised.

There are benefits in addition to liability, meeting high ethical standards, and meeting the needs of all customers. When accessibility guidelines are followed, the overall usability of the site is enhanced. You may also be surprised to find you have taken a leap in search engine optimisation. Many of the practices that assist impaired users also assist search engines with site classification and rank.

Even though there is no global legislation regulating accessibility on the Internet; the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), who is generally accepted as a global standard for Internet practices, has guidelines explaining how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities.