It occurred to me while I was posting a response to a potential client that I didn’t have a resource I could point them to as an answer to the question in the subject line. Certainly, after doing this work for over 10 years, I know the answer to the question, but I had never written in down in exactly that form. Indeed, I have given innumerable workshops and talks over the years and always covered this in the first five minutes. But I guess I have always assumed that everyone already knew this. Silly me.
So here is my answer to the question: Why should my website be accessible? Feel free to comment as a way of adding to the list of reasons. The more (reasons) the merrier.
To begin, not everyone knows that a certain number of people with disabilities must use specialized hardware and software (called Assistive Technology or A.T.) to use computers and technology. For example, most people who are blind (and many people with visual impairments) use a application called a screen-reader which “translates” content on a computer (or other technology) into speech or Braille. The screen-reader software also provides a easy way for the blind person to use the various controls on a computer or device by providing audio feedback which tells the user what is being typed on the screen or what controls are being used. There are also “tools” built into the screen-reader application that allow the user to “scan” the information on the screen and navigate quickly through the content in a way that is purposeful and meaningful. Without screen-reading technology many blind people and those with visual impairments would not be able to use these technologies. Here is a link to more information about Braille and how screen-readers works.
Consider for a moment all the 56.7 million people in the United States who have some form of disability. About 14% of that group, 8.1 million people were reported to have difficulty seeing, including 2.0 million who were blind or unable to see (source Census.gov). Can you afford to have your website not be available to 8 million people in the US alone?
If we also consider other people with disabilities, the numbers grow even larger. People with hearing disabilities frequently need to have video content captioned or audio files transcribed in order to be accessible. People with mobility impairments, that may not be able to use a mouse to navigate around a computer screen, need to have accessible websites that work with the various Assistive Technologies they use.
So the first reason your website should be accessible is because only accessible websites will work correctly and completely with Assistive Technologies. Those websites that are partially accessible or not accessible at all, will be partially usable or completely unusable by people who have disabilities. So, if you want everyone to have access to the content on your website, you should make sure your website is accessible.
The next reason for having an accessible website is because accessible websites meet the international standards for web design and for this reason will work in every “user agent,” that is, every browser, on every operating system, and in every mobile and handheld devices (e.g., mobile phones and small WiFi devices like iPods and iPads). There are literally thousands of different devices and configurations with new technologies being developed every day. So, if you want your website to work with virtually all devices that connect to the internet, you should make sure your website is accessible.
The next reason to make your website accessible is because Google will love you for doing so. Well, not really, but if you want people to find and use your website, then you should be concerned about how search engines like Google “feel” about your site. The science behind this is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which is based upon a set of methodologies that search engine services use to rank websites.
The corporate world spends lots of money tweaking their websites in order to improve their SEO. They understand that the difference of 1% in traffic flowing to a website could mean millions of dollars of profit for their company. Simply put, accessible web sites rank higher on SEO because they are built better than non-accessible sites and Google likes that. So, if you want to improve your SEO, you should make sure your website is accessible.
The last reason I will give here is one that is not exactly universal – yet. However, the trends suggest that it is just a matter of time before it becomes universal. What I am talking about is the legal requirement to make your website accessible.
Currently in the United Kingdom, it is the law that websites be accessible to people with disabilities (here is a summary about the law from Royal National Institute for Blind People). While not everyone is yet in compliance, there has been a steady increase in the number of websites in the United Kingdom that meet accessibilty standards.
In the United States, there is no universal law requiring all websites to meet accessibility standards. However, there are laws on the books that require websites for all federal and state government programs to be accessible. Currently, there are several groups reviewing two federal laws that deal with accessibility and websites, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, with an eye on expanding these laws to cover more websites. In recent years, various advocacy organizations for disabled Americans have also brought numerous civil rights complaints against businesses for not having accessible websites. And, while there has not been a definitive legal ruling, it is clearly just a matter of time before website accessibility becomes the law of the land in the United States. So, if you want to get ahead of this and be ready when the laws and rules change, you should make sure your website is accessible.
Here are some links to some other folks who have addressed this issue:
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – Web Accessibility
- WAI’s “Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization” (thank you Andrew Arch @w3.org)
And if you think of more reasons, please pass them along by commenting.