Some years ago the importance of website accessibility came to the forefront when the Target corporation of the United States of America was sued by the US National Federation for the Blind (NFB). The issue was not that the website failed accessible standards, but that no significant progress towards accessibility had been made on the website’s accessible features following complaints raised twelve months earlier.
Accessibility is not just about anti-discrimination law
Whilst maintaining a compliant site means avoiding unnecessary litigation, there are so many other advantages for keeping up with the latest standards of accessibility. The “Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites” (British Standards Institute 2006, ISBN 0 580 46567 5) raised a few interesting commercial points about the need for accessibility in the United Kingdom:
- The Family Resources Survey  found that there are almost 10 million disabled people in the UK with a combined spending power in the region of 80 billion pounds per annum. Furthermore there are millions of other individuals that are affected by sensory, physical and/or cognitive impairments, including those resulting from the ageing process.
- Research undertaken by the DRC “The Web: Access and inclusion for disabled people”  has confirmed that people without disabilities are also able to use websites that are optimised for accessibility more effectively and more successfully.
- Content developed upholding World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines and specifications can be more easily transferred to other media, such as interactive TV, mobile phones and handheld computers.
- Accessible content, for example where a text equivalent is provided for graphical elements, is highly visible to search engines, often leading to higher rankings.
New standards are on the way
As technologies and techniques change, so does hardware and software. Naturally the standards that made a website accessible several years ago will be showing their inadequacies as vendors try to deliver solutions that take users of the Internet into the future.
It is for this very reason that the Website Content Accessibility Group is recommending a new set of standards to build on the existing framework. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) have been in development for some time, and will inevitably become a standard in the near future.
The same questions that were asked by marketing departments and executives are likely to surface again: “Do we have to do it, and how much will it cost?”. Not that executives or marketers are in any way discriminating, but that it can seem like a forced expense that may be unbudgeted.
A new opportunity for a new generation
Rather than perceiving changing accessibility standards as a threat or weakness to the business, they actually present an opportunity to develop a new strength in the marketplace. Companies should enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to develop a fresh new site, build in some new and much needed functionality, and to capitalise on some of the trends in online social networking. All made possible by a change in accessibility standards.
Never forgetting those that actually use the site
An unfortunate aspect of some standards development processes is that although with best intentions, the standards do not always reflect the very real people that are using the Internet every day, despite needing various enabling technologies.
Real world accessibility is quite different to the tables that are spat out from automated accessibility validators. Interestingly many users simply ignore any part of the site that refers to ‘how to user this site’, or ‘Accessibility help’. Like any person browsing the Internet, they are not thinking about ‘how’ to use it, and especially not how they ‘should’ use a particular site: they simply get on and use it.
So in thinking about making a website accessible as new standards come into play, don’t simply accept the website designer or developer’s certificate’s of validity, rather make sure that some real world accessibility and usability workshops are held.
Creation Interactive has helped organisations such as the Royal London Society for the Blind to implement a website which the real world blind and visually impaired students enjoy its content every day.
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If you would like to ensure your website is accessible in a meaningful way, or would like to organise a usability workshop, please contact our team on 0207 812 6474.