Why is accessibility important?
Accessibility is an immensely important effort. Individuals and organizations with different functions will find different reasons to adopt accessibility. The following is a list of reasons many find compelling.
Accessibility is the right thing to do
Accessibility represents an important step toward independence for individuals with disabilities. Accessible web pages provide access to fundamental government services and information such as tax forms, social programs, and legislative representatives. Accessible web pages also make possible a broader range of employment and educational opportunities by providing added means of communication. In addition, accessibility allows users with disabilities to participate in day-to-day activities many of us take for granted, such as reading a newspaper or buying a gift for a loved one.
Accessibility is the law for many institutions
With new national requirements in the United States, Canada, and the European Union, and more to come in the near future, there are numerous legal mandates for accessibility. These policies will likely expand in scope. In the United States, for instance, Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act sets standards for web pages designed or maintained by federal agencies. State and local governments as well as educational and nonprofit institutions around the United States are considering their own accessibility policies. For example, the University of Wisconsin at Madison adopted an Accessibility Policy requiring all pages published or hosted by the university to conform to all WCAG Priority One and Two checkpoints.
Accessibility offers benefits for all users
As with many improvements intended for individuals with disabilities, the enhancements of accessible design offer benefits for all users of the web. Anyone who has pushed a shopping cart out of a grocery store can attest to the value of automatic doors and ramps cut into curbs. Similarly, accessible web pages are often easier to read, easier to navigate, and faster to download.
Accessibility uses innovative technology
Accessible design is based on the premise that web pages must work with a broader range of browsers than only Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer. A page must be accessible whether using a screen reader, a refreshable braille display, or a head pointer. Making pages work in nonstandard browsers often makes them available to other consumer Internet devices, such as mobile phones or handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs). The techniques of accessibility are based on recent technologies and design strategies. Older, static HTML designs often intermix content with formatting on web pages. Accessibility guidelines encourage the separation of formatting from content through the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) to allow more flexible use of content and easier implementation of more powerful dynamic models.
Accessibility creates market opportunity
Accessibility offers the potential for organizations and businesses to reach new customers and new markets. As additional accessibility policies are adopted, the need among government and educational institutions for goods and services that support accessibility policy is growing. In the United States, businesses providing goods and services to the government via the web or other information technology should understand Section 508. Businesses that understand accessibility and comply with Section 508 have a strong market advantage, which is multiplied as local governments implement new policies.