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Accessibility Basics

For an on-going discussion of web accessibility issues, check out our web accessibility blog.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web Accessibility refers to how well a web site can be used by persons with disabilities. Users with disabilities sometimes make use of assistive technologies (AT) such as screen readers that use speech synthesis to read the content of the screen out loud or refreshable Braille displays that render on-screen content in raised Braille dots on a touch panel. However, unless web sites are coded correctly, the usefulness of these technologies can be seriously limited.

Some disabilities don’t require additional assistive technology and rely instead purely on accommodations in the web site’s coding and design. For instance, online calendars often color-code information (e.g. dates of availability, black-out dates, discount dates). If this information is conveyed by color only without additional indicators, then the information becomes useless to those with color blindness. Considering an estimated 10% of US males suffer from red-green color blindness, this has the potential to be a big problem, but one that easily can be remedied.

When a site is considered “not accessible”, that generally means that persons with one or more kinds of disability cannot effectively use one more important sections of the site — they cannot buy products or services, or access the information. This results in loss of sales, additional time needed from customer support call centers, or unnecessarily frustrated users, to give just three examples.

It doesn’t matter what the cause of the disability is — congenital, accident, disease, age, etc. With the overall “graying” trend in most developed countries, there is a steady increase in the number of people with disabilities using the web. While it is impossible for any site to be 100% accessible for all kinds and every combination of disability, it is nonetheless possible to make big steps towards improving inclusiveness.

More information on web accessibility, see the following sections of this site: