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Web Accessibility: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Man typing on a computer keyboard to illustrate the article "Web Accessibility: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?”

In 1990 George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights law banned discrimination against individuals based on disabilities. The goal of the ADA was to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The effects of this law were comprehensive and far-reaching. It covered employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications and more. Understandably, web accessibility at that time was not a consideration.

The year 2000 brought with it the first web-accessibility lawsuit. Since then, we have become even more reliant on the internet. As a result, websites are under increased scrutiny. The ADA mandated standard is that individuals with a disability must receive “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” The current web accessibility guidelines were published in October 2012 by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

People with disabilities often use assistive technologies. For example, they can use screen readers, screen magnification programs, and keyboards, instead of a mouse, to navigate a site. Web Accessibility refers to the practice of building digital content that people with disabilities can use. Different disabilities pose different challenges. Therefore, the job of website designers and developers is to present as few barriers as possible.

What Is Universal Design?

Universal Design creates an environment that can be accessed, understood and used by all people. Consequently, it becomes unnecessary to think about and work around ability and disability. Rather than imposing special requirements for the benefit of a minority of the population, Universal Design meets the needs of all people. Likewise, Universal Design is good design, and everyone benefits from good design.

What Does Web Accessibility Look Like?

Web accessibility encompasses the needs of people with and without disabilities. In addition to those with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, visual and speech challenges, accessibility benefits those using mobile devices, in low light situations, and with slow internet connections.

In summary, the law guarantees all people the right to access the information on the world wide web, regardless of disability type or severity of impairment. By designing sites in accordance with web accessibility principles, we enable meaningful access for everyone.

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