Thursday, February 21, 2008

Develop a Web site accessible by visually impaired users and comply with the law

Joe Goss at Tech Republic has a good post today on why you should make sure your web sites are accessible to people with disabilities.

At a large public university, I recently assisted a project team in testing a Web-based application we made available to several hundred thousand alumni. Application usability was a key success criterion for the project. Recognizing that numerous alumni might be blind, or color blind, or have some other visual impairment, we worked to make the application comply with the Federal standard for accessibility, Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. This law “requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.”


If you do not work for a Federal agency, the law probably does not apply to your organization. That being said, I firmly believe that equal access to Internet resources is a moral issue that we developers should strive to address. In the U.S. alone, countless people are affected by visual impairment.

The American Foundation for the Blind estimates there are approximately 10 million visually impaired people in the U.S., of which approximately 1.3 million are legally blind. Citing statistics from a 1999 U.S. Bureau of the Census report, the Foundation indicates just over 1.5 million visually impaired people in the U.S. have access to the Internet.

Projecting from a report on the Internet World Stats Website, which states the usage of the Internet in the U.S. has doubled since 1999, we can reasonably conclude that approximately three million visually impaired people in the U.S. have access to the Internet.

Globally, that number is probably many times higher, based at least upon projections from the All About Market Research organization. They indicate Internet usage worldwide has quintupled since 1999. It is easy to see that by making your Website accessible, you may open doors for many more visitors.

Take a test

Would a blind person find your organization’s Website easy to use? Take a simple test. Go to your organization’s home page, close your eyes and try to navigate the Website. Since you no longer can see the visual cues that simplify navigation, your interaction with the Website becomes a frustrating experience. You may wonder how someone with a visual impairment explores your Website. Happily, there many simple accommodations you can make to improve accessibility.

Joe has a lot of great resources listed, and he also wants you to take a poll.

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