Like the telephone before it, the Internet has quickly matured into an essential public service that millions of people throughout the world rely on everyday. It is the greatest hub of information ever assembled and affects how we study, shop for products and services, learn about world events and communicate with those around us.
Recognizing the Internet's importance in today's society, many governments are in the process of introducing legislation designed to ensure equal access to the Web regardless of any physical disability a person may have. In some parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, these laws already exist and businesses are required to comply. In many other countries, government websites are required to meet Web Accessibility standards while businesses are encouraged to comply voluntarily.
Frequently Asked Questions About Web Accessibility
As a leading Internet Solutions provider, BackupBrain is committed to assisting our customers to ensure their websites are Web Accessible. We do this by providing education, guidance and solutions that comply with the worldwide W3C standards.
What is the standard for Web Accessibility?
The recognized authority for Web Accessibility guidelines is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C was founded by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and Internet industry member organizations to establish technical standards and usability guidelines for the Web.
Is compliance with Web Accessibility guidelines a legal requirement?
In some countries private businesses are required by law to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Currently this includes the United Kingdom and Australia. In the United States, as is the case in many other countries, government websites are required to meet Web Accessibility standards while businesses are encouraged to comply voluntarily.
A growing number of countries, including many of those in the European Union and Asia, are reviewing Web Accessibility guidelines and are expected to introduce their own expanded legislation in the near future.
Why should I do this? What are the benefits to my business?
Beyond compliance with local laws, there are benefits to be gained by ensuring your website meets Web Accessibility guidelines.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of removing barriers to people with disabilities is that you'll reach more potential customers! In the United States alone there are an estimated 52 million people with some sort of cognitive, visual, hearing or physical disability that prevents them from using the Internet in a traditional manner. In the UK, there are 10 million people with some sort of disability. Having an inaccessible website means turning away a lot of business -- business that a better prepared competitor would be happy to accommodate.
"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Making your website accessible also improves its ability to be fully indexed by the search engines, and shows that you are committed to equal rights in the service of your customers.
Is it my website's structure or the page content that must be Web Accessible?
The answer here is both. Web Accessibility guidelines cover the actual structure of the website (i.e. the layout and programming) as well as on page content. Without getting too technical, the way a website is built -- the technologies used, navigation scheme and so forth -- play a major role in determining how well the various tools used by those with disabilities will work when trying to view the website. For example, if your website uses lots of Flash and animated navigation elements, chances are someone with impaired vision or motor-control won't be able to navigate the site very well, if at all.
When it comes to page content, simple things like proper formatting, use of punctuation and a logical flow between paragraphs go a long way towards making the site more accessible. Imagine how difficult it would be to understand an entire Web page if it were read aloud in one long continuous sentence! Using headers on paragraphs, and commas and periods where they should be helps someone using a text-to-speech screen reader follow along and understand what it is you're trying to tell them.
How will complying with Web Accessibility rules affect my search engine ranking?
The good news is that many of the checkpoints outlined in Web Accessibility guidelines actually have a positive effect on a website's search engine optimization.
The software "spiders" that the major search engines use to find and index websites look for text content because they cannot really "see" or "read" images, Flash or fanciful navigation schemes. Adding descriptions to your pictures and multimedia content will help the search engines to more accurately classify your website's content, while clear navigation and sitemaps ensure that the whole site is viewed by the search engine.
Is an accessible website expensive?
In most cases, no. Much of the cost will depend on what stage of development your Internet presence is in. Just as adding wheelchair ramps and elevators to a store after the fact would be more expensive than having planned for it initially, building your website to be accessible at the onset will save you money. If you already have a website, upgrades can be done in phases; The W3C has defined three levels of accessibility, from A to AAA, which can be implemented as required over time.
We can assess your needs and come up with a strategy that is both affordable for your business and compliant with the regulations that may be in place in your region.