Since its inception, the internet has been praised as an inclusive place. Unfortunately, many websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities, making it difficult to find information online. However, web accessibility for people with disabilities is becoming a greater priority, both in the government and private sector.
What Is Web Accessibility?
The World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative defines the practice of web accessibility as making websites so “people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web.” W3C also believes that web accessibility can benefit others, including older people.
Importance of Web Accessibility For People With Disabilities
The internet has become a crucial part of life. Because it’s used in government, health care, education, finance and other essential areas, it’s important that everyone can access and interact with the internet correctly. It is the responsibility of organizations to offer equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities, giving them the ability to actively participate in society.
Common Barriers to Web Accessibility
There are several ways that a website can be inaccessible to a person with disabilities. These barriers vary on the individual and the disability.
Those who are deaf or hard of hearing are unable to fully interact with some websites, especially ones that capitalize on sound. Common auditory barriers include media players without captions, lack of sign language to supplement information and interactions that rely on use of voice.
Cognitive and Neurological
Both cognitive and neurological disabilities involve the nervous system or brain, impacting how people see, hear, move, speak and interpret information. Disabilities in this category include autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and mental illnesses. Complex page navigation, moving content that cannot be turned off and other mechanisms that cannot be easily turned off are common web issues that affect these individuals.
Often referred to as “motor disabilities,” physical limitations can also lead to web inaccessibility. Websites without full keyboard or mouse support, ones that require time limits to complete tasks and others that require certain orientation cues can cause issues for those with physical disabilities.
People with mutism, apraxia or cluttering often struggle with web accessibility, especially when services include speech interaction. When a website only offers a phone number or voice interaction method as its contact information, those with speech disabilities are unable to fully interact with the website.
Individuals with blindness, color-blindness and deaf-blindness especially struggle with many websites. Images without text alternatives, missing non-visual cues and websites that do not offer custom color combinations can be huge barriers to those with visual disabilities.
Web Accessibility Regulation
In many places, governments have put web accessibility guidelines into place. Unfortunately, the United States has no binding laws to make websites accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires accessibility at the physical locations of businesses. But the regulations don’t extend to the internet, with the exception of government websites that are bound by statutes requiring web accessibility. Thus, the U.S. Department of Justice requires all government forms and information available online to be accessible to people with any disability.
Technology Changing Web Accessibility for People With Disabilities
For those committed to creating an internet friendlier to those with disabilities, technology remains their best ally. Assistive technology (AT) refers to products developed with the intention of meeting the needs of people with disabilities. The use of AT has helped make web accessibility more possible. Here are a few examples of assistive technology that can improve web accessibility.
Many products designed for people with disabilities provide text-to-speech functionality to read a site’s content aloud. These products are especially helpful for people who are blind or who have cognitive/neurological disabilities and have difficulty reading as a result. But even with this capability, some websites still have content incompatible with text-to-speech products. This immediately locks out individuals with disabilities who attempt to access the content.
Special Input Devices
Some individuals with mobility or dexterity impairments are unable to use the traditional keyboard and mouse on a computer. Thus, they may use a special keyboard or mouse that has unique switches, joysticks or shortcuts for easier access. However, some websites are unable to easily interface with special input devices and are inaccessible.
Technology for Auditory Disabilities
Audio traditionally takes a secondary role across the internet with it being very possible to use the web without any audio. However, there is plenty of content containing audio that speech-to-text capabilities make easier to access. Even sounds like beeps can be substituted with visual cues thanks to software.
Best Practices for Improving Web Accessibility for People With Disabilities
The reality is that the designers of a website can truly do the most to make it more accessible. These tips are small but important steps any organization can take to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to the internet.
Use alt tags
These simple tags allow text-to-speech software to read text out loud. Alt tags can be used on images and other content that isn’t text. These are an opportunity to describe an image for someone who can’t see it.
Subtitles and transcripts
If a website includes videos, offering subtitles or transcripts is key. This ensures that those unable to hear can participate as well. Transcripts for longer audio can even be helpful for those without disabilities.
Put periods in abbreviations
Screen readers will be confused by any abbreviation without periods. Properly using periods ensures the National Basketball Association is properly pronounced as “N.B.A.” instead of “nba.”
Increase clickable range
People with mobility issues may be unable to click within a small area. Increasing click range saves users from having to play darts with their mouse.
Include an accessibility guide
One of the most important things to do is to offer users a guide describing how the site is accessible. Accessibility guides help people with disabilities understand how to use the website and access content.
The Possibilities of Technology
Information technology professionals have the tools to ensure that people with disabilities can properly access the internet. Point Park University’s online Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree prepares students for in-demand roles across industries. The fully online program is ideal for professionals balancing work and personal responsibilities while pursuing a degree. Learn more today.