audio version (opens in a new tab)
This week, I shine the spotlight on assistive technology, specifically web site accessibility. I have written about this subject previously. For example, the importance of headings and descriptive links were discussed in
my blog post about creating accessible information.
Today, I discuss web site accessibility by summarizing a webinar featuring an organization focused on web site accessibility. The
Hosted a webinar on March 19, 2019, entitled
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Web Sites: What is Required”.
I listened to the webinar on June 2, 2021. The archive link above provides the recording and presentation materials. IN this blog post, I will summarize the archived webinar.
Web Site Accessibility: An Overview
The presenter was from
Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM).
The organization provides, among other things, web site evaluation tools, resources and relevant articles. Accessibility to technology makes sense from a marketing in ethical perspective. If accessibility is implemented when a product becomes available, it can lead to usage by people with disabilities. The presenter provided the example of an IPhone. Additionally, web site accessibility can enable web sites to be useable with assistive technology used by people with a variety of disabilities. However, if accessibility is not considered, this could result in people with disabilities being unable to use a web site. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were then discussed briefly.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
WCAG defines technology standards for web sites, including accessibility. A primary focus for WCAG accessibility guidelines is that a web site should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. These principles mean, in basic terms, that any user should be able to use the web site like everyone else. These principles were discussed in brief by the presenter. For a more detailed explanation, I recommend reading an article which I found online entitled
“What Are the Four Major Categories of Accessibility?”.
In addition to explaining each of the four accessibility principles, guidelines for each are also given in the article. The presenter then focused on valuing the needs of users.
Valuing the Needs of Users
Although a web site may comply with accessibility guidelines (technical compliance), it is possible for the web site to not be useable for some people (functional use). For example, someone with a disability may only be able to use a keyboard but not the mouse. It is important to consider the needs of individual users. The presenter also said that web site useability should be prioritized over guideline compliance. The Americans with Disabilities Act was then discussed.
The ADA as it Pertains to Web Sites
The Internet did not exist when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. Although the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, the Internet is not specifically covered. When lawsuits have been made regarding web site accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have been cited as an accessibility standard. Whether web sites need to be accessible is controversial from a legal perspective. For more on that subject, I suggest reading my article
my article “Webinar: An Accessibility Crystal Ball”.
My summary of that webinar explains various legal perspectives regarding web site accessibility. In the 2019 webinar being summarized here, the presenter’s bottom line is that accessibility enables a web site to be useable by everyone, including those with disabilities. The presenter wrapped up by summarizing some types of disability accommodations. For example, contrast can help someone with dyslexia or a visual limitation. Or, captions for audio can help people find it difficult to access audio material. For this example, the presenter pointed out that captions can help people with and without disabilities. A question-and-answer period then followed.
Questions and Answers
The moderator from Great Lakes ADA Center asked the presenter about the largest web site accessibility barriers. The presenter responded awareness about accessibility is the major barrier. Accessibility awareness has increased over the years. However, many web sites still have accessibility issues. During the webinar, someone asked about social media accessibility on a web site. The presenter said that social media content can sometimes not be accessible for people with disabilities. A workaround recommended by the presenter is to skip past a Twitter feed. I will now provide my own perspective regarding web site accessibility as a user with disability.
I agree with the presenter’s statement during question-and-answer period that there is a lack of accessibility awareness on the Web. I recall an incident where the web site of an entity providing accessible materials to accommodate blind people had social media links with no descriptive text. When I pointed this out to the relevant web site, I was told they were not previously aware of that accessibility issue. This accessibility problem was fixed on the same day my report was sent. I also know from experience that some web sites are not as committed to improving accessibility. However, I encourage my readers to contact web sites when you experience accessibility difficulties. By doing so, you can advocate for yourself and possibly improve the accessibility experience for other users of the Internet who have disabilities. Bottom line: The needs of users are the most important factor to consider regarding accessibility.
Question for readers: If you have experienced difficulties accessing a web site due to accessibility barriers, what happened? I will return with another article.