An easy to get to website is one that can be reached and used by all users, irrespective of any physical disability they might have or the manner in which they use the internet. This is a sufficiently important condition which has become a legal requirement for certain websites in many countries, especially the U.S., and typically government sites.
An accessible website has business significance because current figures indicate that disabled users constitute between 10% and 20% of the population of most countries. These numbers do not include those who are marginally challenged to whom an accessible website would provide a more rewarding internet experience. Another consideration is the average age of users which is steadily increasing in most countries. With advancing years a number of issues arise such as changes in vision and hearing and a steady decline in dexterity and memory. All told the number of internet users who would benefit from more accessible websites would stand at around 30% of the population, a figure that no business can afford to ignore. Let us consider some of the more common issues involved.
- Visually Disabled Users
Visually disabled could range from color blind to completely blind. Partially blind users have difficulty in grasping images which do not carry a text description of what they contain. A visually impaired user who is unable to see the image cannot comprehend what it is, or what it is trying to convey. Color blind users are sometimes unable to distinguish design elements, as well as text, from the surrounding elements which might include background or page color, since the two colors may not contrast sufficiently. Problems could also arise with sites not designed to enable ‘viewing’ through a screen reader, which is a web browser that reads text aloud from websites. Frequently an attractive website can be quite indistinct when heard through a screen reader.
- · Hearing Impairments
An accessible website has to accommodate users with impaired hearing. Hearing impaired users are unable to grasp information and data which is audio communicated. A simple solution is to provide an image or text description in addition, as a backup.
- · Physical Disabilities
It is difficult to a person not physically disabled to understand how a website can be accessed without using a mouse. The needs of such disabled users should be addressed with website input and navigation methods which make the site accessible and user friendly.
- · Cognitive and Neurological Disabilities
An overly complex design makes a website confusing to most normal users, much more those with cognitive and neurological disorders. Such sites are completely beyond the comprehension of such users. Simplicity is the key to an effective website, more so if it is to be accessible to the broadest possible spectrum of users including those with cognitive and neurological disorders.
Several groups worldwide are focused on highlighting accessibility issues. They provide help and guidance to those who want to design accessible websites. One concerned group is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which has published guidelines and standards for accessible websites.