The case for web accessibility

  • Author: Tim Lohman
  • Date: 10 Mar 2014

If your website does not support web accessibility, there are four very good reasons why it should.

Social inclusion

For everything from work to education, to health and recreation, to services and shopping, to staying in touch with friends and family to news and entertainment, we rely on the web.

The web touches just about every aspect of our lives, so it needs to be accessible so that everyone can fully participate in life.

The web is also a global medium and supports a global society, so it’s also not just a case of individuals, industries or countries acting in isolation but a global need and push to make the world accessible.

Something of the importance and impact of the web on all our lives can be seen in the fact that internet access has been declared by the United Nations as a human right.

Closer to home, the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) found that close to one in five Australians (18.5 per cent) of Australians have a disability. Add to that an ageing population of baby boomers and you have two large populations who have a genuine and pressing need to have barriers — vision, physical, hearing and cognitive — removed so that they can remain active participants in society.

And as if that weren’t enough, web accessibility can also benefit people with low literacy and those who are not fluent in English. 

Employment and education

Disability has a profound effect on people’s ability to find employment and access the education services which allow them, like other people, to skill-up and become more employable.

On the employment front, the ABS notes that people with a disability generally experience lower levels of employment than other Australians: “This can affect their self-esteem, their level of engagement with the wider community and can have a financial impact on individuals and their families.”

Disability can also affect people’s opportunities in the workforce. The ABS finds that people aged between 15 and 64 years with disability have both lower participation (53 per cent) and higher unemployment rates (9.4 per cent) than people without a disability (83 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively).

In the same way that disability can affect access to employment, it also affects access to education opportunities.

In a practical sense, one need only imagine the difficulty in finding and applying for a job or enrolling in a course if potential employers, jobs site or universities’ websites could not be accessed.

Similarly, how hard would it be to travel to a job interview or to the first day of class if bus and train timetables websites, or route-finding websites and apps could not be accessed.

Could you keep your job if the websites of your employer, your customers and your suppliers all could not be accessed? Could you study and pass your exams if the websites of your education provider could not be accessed?

Clearly, improved web accessibility can be hugely life-changing for people with a disability, and have a direct impact on their ability to up-skill and gain and retain employment.

Web accessibility is good for business

With more and more consumers researching and discovering brands, interacting with companies,  and making purchases online, it simply makes good financial sense that businesses — as well as agencies, educational institutions and not-for-profits — make their websites accessible.

Without accessible websites they are potentially missing out on reaching customers within the 18.5 per cent of Australians with a disability, the growing number of retirees with disposable income, as well consumers with low literacy and those who are not fluent in English. 

Businesses which adopt web accessibility will gain a competitive advantage over rivals in accessing a large and under-served market.

Legal and Policy

There is also strong argument for engaging with web accessibility based on legal and policy requirements.

In brief, Section 5 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) requires organisations not to treat people with a disability less favourably than people without a disability. Organisations must also make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability so that they can have the same level of access as people without a disability.  

Put simply, organisations — be they governmental, educational, not-for-profit or private businesses — that do not improve their web accessibility must accept they are at greater risk of litigation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and other anti-discrimination acts. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s advisory notes on web access and the DDA are recommended reading in this area.

The most well-known case of complaint brought under the DDA in this area is that of Maguire v. Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. International examples are also instructive: National Federation Of The Blind (NFB), et al v. Target Corporation and the Attorney General of Canada v Jodhan.

In addition to the DDA, rights for people with a disability have also been lent weight through Australia’s  ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Government policy is also supportive of greater web accessibility, with the Federal Government’s National Transition Strategy serving as something of a proxy for the case that all state and local governments as well as businesses and other organisations need to act on web accessibility.

Conclusion

Taken in isolation, the social inclusion, employment and education, business, and legal and policy dimensions make for a strong case in favour of acting on web accessibility. However, together, they should leave little doubt that advancing web accessibility is the right thing, the smart thing, and the required thing to do.

Want to learn more about WCAG 2.0 and web accessibility?

In partnership with the University of South Australia, W3C member Media Access Australia offers the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility, a fully assessed six-week online program that covers both accessibility principles and techniques. The course provides students with all the essentials needed to achieve compliance with international best practice in accessibility.

Media Access Australia's dedicated site for web professionals, Access iQ, also offers complete guides to web accessibility for content authors, web developers and web designers.