The primary reason why you should produce accessible products is to make them usable by the millions of people who have disabilities. However, accessibility can also help you:
Society has benefited in many ways from the information technology revolution. It has also enabled businesses to broaden their markets and communicate the benefits of their products and services to people all over the world. However, not everyone can reap the benefits of this technology change. For example, people with disabilities—including older users who may acquire age-related disabilities—cannot participate fully because much of the technology is not designed with accessibility in mind.
Creating a truly "open" organization that includes accessible information technology systems can help businesses extend their offerings to the widest possible number of customers and prospects. Consider:
The millions of people with disabilities who want and need to use technology have an estimated $175 billion in disposable income and are potential customers. Unfortunately, the needs of people with disabilities are often forgotten as designers and developers strive to meet deadlines and surpass competitive requirements. However, the good news is that with few exceptions, the technology is available to accomplish accessibility, and using this technology is not difficult or expensive if accessibility features are included in the initial design of products or technology systems.
The nation's fastest growing age group, the mature customer, can benefit from many techniques and solutions that address the needs of people with disabilities. Accessibility has proven to be an effective solution for many age-related disabilities such as low vision and hearing loss. These same techniques are also useful to second-language learners who can benefit from content presented in various formats . By incorporating accessibility practices and principles into the way you do business, you have the opportunity to not only reach more people with your products and services, but make them new customers as well. In short, making products accessible is just good business.
The issue of accessibility is becoming a force in the marketplace. Businesses, vendors, and organizations are increasingly doing business only with those companies that offer accessible products because they must meet the needs of their employees and customers, and meet legislation and purchasing requirements. In the last several decades, many regulations and standards have been put into effect in the U.S. and worldwide. The following sections summarize the major regulations driving accessibility.
Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act
This is the most recent law relating to accessibility and is often referred to as "Section 508." In 1998, the president signed into law the Workforce Investment Act, which amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1986 and significantly expanded and strengthened the technology access requirements of the 1986 act. In effect, the new law requires that federal procurement of electronic and information technology after August 2000 must be accessible to federal employees who have disabilities and to members of the public with disabilities who need to use that technology. States that receive federal funds under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 are also required to comply with Section 508. Section 508 also applies to Web sites that are produced for government agencies. For additional information about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, visit: www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/508home.html and www.access-board.gov/.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs, and services provided by state and local governments, as well as goods and services provided by private companies. It applies to all businesses as well as to goods and services provided by governments. The ADA requires that all public facilities be accessible. In addition, all businesses with 15 or more employees are required to make their facilities and information technologies accessible to employees who have disabilities. For additional information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, visit: www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm.
Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and software ensure that such equipment be directly accessible to people with disabilities if that access is "readily achievable." If direct accessibility is not readily achievable, the manufacturer must make the equipment compatible with adaptive equipment used by people with disabilities, if "readily achievable." Section 255 requires the U.S. Access Board to issue guidelines that set forth criteria for accessibility and compatibility. For additional information about Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, visit: www.w3.org/WAI/References/Policy#255.
In addition to federal legislation, many states have enacted laws that address accessibility. For example, Texas passed a bill directing the Texas Education Agency to investigate ways to develop electronic textbooks that are accessible to students who are blind or who have visual impairment. In California, Code of Regulations Section 55370 states that the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act are applicable to distance education courses. Finally, the state of New York's Information Management Technology Policy 96-13 requires that both state employees and citizens with disabilities have reasonable access to electronic and information technology. It is probable that every state in the U.S. will develop its own accessibility requirements, similar to those of section 508. For additional information on state regulations, visit: www.w3.org/WAI/Policy/USA-States.html and www.ittatc.org/laws/
Regulatory compliance is also an important reason to produce accessible Web sites in other countries. For example, the Nordic countries have published their own set of accessibility guidelines, and Portugal and Thailand have recently introduced legislation that directly requires Web accessibility. Other countries, such as Australia and Canada, have legislation that makes it a civil right for individuals with disabilities to be able to access certain kinds of information. Additional information about these and other policies is available from the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative at: www.w3.org/WAI/References/Policy.
Producing accessible products will help ensure that your company meets certain national and international standards and guidelines. For example, alternative (Alt) text for images is required to meet the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) 4.0 standard. The following standards and guidelines address accessibility issues:
Many products used today, such as the telephone, the typewriter, or voice-recognition software, were initially designed for people with disabilities. Considering the requirements of a person with a disability often results in a product that benefits everyone. In Europe, this is called "Designing for All."
All of us are "disabled" in certain situations. Suppose you are traveling in a taxi and want to access a Web page over the telephone. When you are on the phone, you are "blind" and could benefit from sites that are accessible in those situations.
Accessible Web sites can make it possible for software technologies to be more effective. For example, search engines can locate and catalog information presented in images by using the alternative text associated with the image, and multimedia players can search and index multimedia content using the captioned text associated with video tracks. Accessibility also often makes Web sites more user-friendly. For example, a Web site that complies with the accessibility checklist has a more consistent user interface and is easier to learn. The site will also transform gracefully, so it can be used by earlier versions of browsers. For additional information on the benefits of Web accessibility, look up the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) draft report entitled "W3C's Auxiliary Benefits of Accessible Web Design."
Last updated, September 04, 2007