It's all too easy sometimes to take for granted some of the wonders of the technological world in which we live. Like being able to effortlessly browse the web, talk instantly to people thousands of miles away, watch cute videos of pandas and download the new Rihanna song all at the same time. Simply put, we're rather spoilt when you consider how recently and quickly this technology revolution thing has come about.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet (as opposed to Al Gore), has long argued in favour of Net Neutrality, whereby access to the web without interference from governments and corporations should be a fundamental right of every human being. He's absolutely right, however providing net access for all isn't quite as simple as giving everyone a computer and telling them to get on with it.
Unfortunately for the 10 million disabled and differently abled people in the UK, having access to a computer is just half the battle. Web accessibility is the term given to the concept of making the web accessible to those with visual, auditory, cognitive or mobility impairments, and sadly is a relatively neglected area of web design. That's not to say that some sites don't do it well, and the BBC website is a terrific example, but web accessibility is arguably not the priority today that it perhaps should be.
According to the Web Accessibility Initiative, the essential components for the web to be accessible are as follows:
1. The content on web pages must be natural information
2. Web browsers and media players
3. Assistive Technologies
4. Users' knowledge and experience using the web
6. Authoring tools
7. Evaluation tools
The integration of these components and how they relate to each other is fundamentally important when focussing on web accessibility. The full article can be found here.
Sometimes it's not necessarily feasible to make a website accessible to everyone, but the question you should be asking yourself as a web designer is 'if this content isn't available to some users, why not?' If you have a podcast, why isn't there a transcription? If you have a video, can it be subtitled? Can the scripts be interpreted by a screenreader? Are the fonts easy to read and well spaced? White text on a dark background for instance is easier to read than dark text on a light background for the partially sighted. If 1 in 6 visitors to your website might potentially have difficulty reading your site, then why should that be the case?
As callous as it sounds, this can be an inconvenient problem. It's far easier to consider only browser versions and operating systems when thinking about accessibility, but the reality is that it's our duty to provide websites that can cater for the needs of everyone who might want to read them. In a world where technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives, perhaps it's time to think about accessibility as being about more than just the tangible aspects like wheelchair access, subtitles and braille.
With the Paralympics approaching next year, now might be an excellent time to evaluate your website and think about what more you can be doing to make it accessible to every person, able bodied or not, who wants to read it. As Tim Berners-Lee said, the web should be for everyone.