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The need for accessibility

Wheel Chair Icon: Universal Icon Symbol of AccessibilityWhen most businesses think about accessibility, things like automatic doors and wheelchair ramps come to mind.

Making your goods and services available to persons with disabilities is not just a good idea, in many cases it is required by law. The same can be true for your web site as well.

Though not often thought of in terms of web sites, accessibility is just as important in the on-line world as it is in the physical world.

Your place of business may have wheelchair ramps, parking spaces for the handicapped, automatic doors, signs with additional lettering in Braille, etc., but is your web site accessible?

What is accessibility

Being in a wheelchair is not in itself a barrier to using a web site. So, what does accessibility mean in this case?

The Director of the W3C, and one of the creators of the World Wide Web itself, Tim Berners-Lee, describes it quite simply as "access by everyone, regardless of disability".

For the World Wide Web, accessibility means that people with a variety of disabilities can perceive, comprehend, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can also contribute to the Web.

Accessibility can also benefit people without disabilities in certain situations, such as people using a slow Internet connection, people with temporary disabilities such as a broken arm, and people with changing abilities due to aging.

Imagine a man with a disability so commonplace as to be ignored by most people: color-blindness. If asked to "click the red button" to complete an order, he may not be able to tell the difference between that button and the gray button which cancels his order.

Can you afford to lose this man's business simply because his vision won't allow him to differentiate between two colors on your web site?

People with a wide variety of physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities can find a large portion of the World Wide Web very difficult, if not impossible, to utilize.

Most obstacles presented by the average web site can be easily overcome by an analysis of the existing content, and careful use of current web standards to modify the underlying code.

Benefits of Web Site Accessibility

The benefits to be gained by making your web site meet accessibility guidelines or legislation are many, the least of which is complying with your local laws, if applicable.

Not only will you be opening your doors to a large number of potential customers who may not have been able to use your web site before; you will also be assured that your site will be compatible with a wider variety of browsers and devices both now and in the future.

Your satisfied users become loyal customers, continue to visit your site, and recommend it to others.

According to the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative, by providing an accessible web site you can realize the following benefits:

Common Misconceptions

Many people are completely unaware of the issue of accessibility as it relates to web sites. Even those that know something of it are sometimes greatly misinformed regarding its impact on web sites and their design.

Some people are convinced that you must make two separate versions of your web site in order to meet accessibility requirements; your regular site, and one for those with disabilities. This is most definitely not true.

By designing with web standards and following certain guidelines, your site will just as accessible to screen readers, portable devices, and older browsers as it is to the most modern standards-compliant web browsers.

Others believe that by creating a version of their site using only text they will satisfy accessibility requirements. Once again, this is not true.

Sending users with disabilities to a text-only version of your site would be assuming that persons with limited mobility, for example, have no desire to see your images, and that none of these users have a desire to shop using your commerce site.

Beyond that, creating and maintaining a text-only version of your web site is much more costly than providing accessibility options in your existing site.

Another reason often cited in order to avoid meeting accessibility requirements is that it is too expensive. This also is not true, especially when the benefits gained are taken into account.

There is not a great deal of expense involved in typing alt text for the images on a page. More detailed work to ensure conformance with a higher level of accessibility does cost more than such simple tasks.

Authoring closed captions for live streaming media or news feeds, for example, bears a significant cost. Few sites will require such extensive work, though. The level of accessibility desired relates to the time and expense required.

Still others believe that in order to be accessible, a site must be more primitive; even ugly. This is most definitely not the case.

Images, style sheets, Java Script, and other contemporary elements of web site design are perfectly compatible with accessibility guidelines; they simply require more care and judgment in their use.

Adding access attributes to the elements of a web site, making adjustments to global templates, and modifying document flow bear a one-time cost which can continue to bring benefits to you and your web site.

Notice:This article was written by John Britsios, Web Architect & Senior SEO Consultant here at Webnauts Net and SEO Workers - Expert SEO Company.

It may be reproduced on a web site, CD-ROM, e-zine, book, magazine, etc. so long permission is received from Webnauts Net and the author's name is included in full, and, if the reproduction is by electronic media, a link back to this web site is included.