Accessibility Matters

- March 18, 2009

Why bother?

As your site grows, so does your traffic. As the sum of traffic on the net increases (for both disabled users and non-disabled users), your site can theoretically gain some of that traffic.

The largest group of disabled people in America has vision problems (3.5%), where, in contrast, 3.3% have hearing problems and 3% have difficulty using hands (The Survey on Income and Program Participation, 1999, carried out by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration). The same study showed that 21% of people with vision problems have Internet access.

I believe this shows that since the web is overwhelmingly a visual medium, having an inaccessible site is affecting more users than you might have previously thought.

Often web project managers decide to include some nice effects or special functionality on their sites, but they’re probably not absolutely necessary. Will these features increase traffic? On the flip side, there are likely some vision-impaired people using your site from time to time. These users may keep coming back because they have no problem using your site or they keep coming back and using your site, while being a little inconvenienced or annoyed. The worst case scenario is that they come to your site and leave right away because it’s too difficult or impossible for them to use. What I’d like to propose is that catering to these visitors will probably increase your traffic more than some of the other visual effects or tricks you thought of.

Moreover, laws protecting the disabled users have been passed in many countries based on rulings that having inaccessible sites is a type of discrimination.

Also consider that by digitizing certain environments, such as a shopping mall, disabled users can now participate in these environments due, in part to assistive devices that can understand HTML and other digital technologies. Remember that these assistive devices (such as a screen reader) are machines, just like search engines, that read the pages’ HTML code. Many times if you make sure your HTML is validated with a validation service, you will make strides in both the SEO and accessibility arenas. We can’t assume, however, that all of your disabled users are using assistive devices. In this case, they may be relying solely on your coding and design to help them.

Perhaps you’re wondering what it will cost to add accessible features to your site. Probably very little, especially if you add it from the beginning. Please make sure to come back and read my next post. I will explain some basic tips on designing accessible sites.

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