People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about. Like all people, they may love the arts, animals and the environment, enjoy beautiful parks and fun outdoor activities, support education and helping those in need, want serious social problems addressed, and want to be involved in these causes – as employees, as donors, as volunteers and as clients. But if your organization’s web site isn’t accessible to them, you leave them out – and that means you leave out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more.
- Would you construct a building for your organization that was not accessible for someone using a wheelchair?
- Would your company have an event at a club that excluded certain people from attending?
- Would you produce a brochure with a color scheme that rendered it unreadable to those with color vision impairments, or with text so tiny that, even with reading glasses, many people couldn’t read it?
Most everyone would reply to the questions above with a resounding “no.” And, yet, people with disabilities are often locked out of Web sites because their needs are not considered as the sites are designed and built.
More than 49 million Americans have some type of disability. Did you know that one in five people will experience a disability at some point in their lives? And those numbers are sure to increase as the population ages.
People with disabilities want to be able to learn, to work, to volunteer, to donate and to contribute to their society just as everyone does. And just like other people, they want to use the Web and other online technologies to access information and network with others.
If you would like to know what navigating the world would be like if it were not designed for you but, rather, only for people with disabilities, have a look at this 45-second video, which is an advertisement for Électricité de France:
Here is a 57-second video about Knowbility, produced by PostItNotes, which reviews why accessibility online is important:
If you have more time, you can view this 13:17 video, “When we design for disability, we all benefit,” a TedTalk by Elise Roy, a disability rights lawyer and design thinker:
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility means:
- Videos have captioned text, so that those with hearing impairments can still get the message you are trying to communicate.
- All links use descriptive text; instead of “click here”, you say “Here is a list of our staff,” for instance.
- Within the HTML for a web page, all photos and graphics have “alt” tags, allowing someone with a sight impairment to hear, via their screen reader, what graphics and photos are on a page.
- All text that is within a graphic is also represented as text somewhere on the page; for instance, the name of the organization may be a part of the logo, but it should also be found as text on the page, so someone with a sight-impairment can find the name of your organization.
- There is not a need for a mouse in order to navigate web site or online feature.
These are some of the most common ways to make a website accessible.
People with a disability may use an assistive technology to navigate the web. Examples:
- Screen reader software, which can read out, using synthesized speech, either selected elements of a page (such as just the hyperlinks) or can read out what is happening on the computer, so the user knows that, for instance, a search is underway, or there is a slide show of photos scrolling through the page.
- Braille terminals, consisting of a refreshable braille display which renders text as braille characters (usually by means of raising pegs through holes in a flat surface) and either a mainstream keyboard or a braille keyboard.
- Screen magnification software, which enlarges what is displayed on the computer monitor, making it easier to read for vision impaired users.
- Speech recognition software that can accept spoken commands to the computer, or turn dictation into grammatically correct text – useful for those who have difficulty using a mouse or a keyboard.
- Keyboard overlays, which can make typing easier or more accurate for those who have motor control difficulties.
- Access to subtitled or sign language videos for people with hearing impairments.
Is my organization required to have an accessible website?
You might be. If your organization has received federal or state funding, you are required to comply to Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that websites to be accessible.
No matter what, accessibility makes good business sense. You never know which of your friends, family members, neighbors, and clients have, or will experience, a life-altering disability. It simply doesn’t make sense to exclude them from the services you offer, or from the information you provide.
What are the costs of maintaining an accessible web site?
Designing a web site to be accessible to people using assistive technologies and others with disabilities is very simple and costs nothing additional when having a web site designed – so long as accessibility is built in from the beginning. Your costs for maintaining an accessible web site will be no more than maintaining a website that isn’t accessible.
Tools Created For One Group Can Serve Everyone
Wheelchair ramps were created for people in wheelchairs and walkers or who cannot otherwise use steps easily because of an impairment. However, they are also used by people pushing strollers, people with young children, mail carriers pushing bins of mail, and many others.
Closed captioning on TV was created for people with hearing impairments. However, it’s also used by people learning English or learning to read, and by bars and restaurants with television displays so that customers can follow a television broadcast despite the noise of a crowd or a band.
Bathroom stalls for people with disabilities were created for people in wheelchairs. However, they are also used by parents with children in strollers, or who need to be assisted when going to the bathroom.
The lesson here is clear: the computer tools you develop with accessibility in mind will probably serve a much broader audience. For instance, many people view videos at work, but do not have headphones, so they watch the videos with the sound muted, and read closed captions. Many people who do not consider themselves disabled wear reading glasses, and if a web site is designed to be accessible, they can use the accessibility tools that are already on their computer or phone to easily, instantly make all of the text on a web site bigger and more readable.
One of the things the design teams learn when participating in OpenAIR is that making a Website accessible does NOT mean curbing creativity and fun in designs. The training OpenAIR provides designers helps them understand alternative ways to achieve effects and allow even more people to have access to what’s on a web site.
Training for Nonprofits, NGOs and Others
Organizations that register to participate in OpenAIR receive a special training from Knowbility staff regarding accessibility. We want organizations that participate in OpenAIR to not only get a fantastic, accessible web site; we want them to become evangelists for accessibility, and this training is part of that. We want our training to help you become an advocate in your organization and in your community regarding accessibility, online and off.
While each OpenAIR organization participant must choose a staff member to be the primary contact for our interactions, we welcome additional staff from your organization to participate in the accessibility training we provide.
If you want to get started on learning more about accessibility right away, there are two archived accessibility presentations online, hosted at TechSoup, that can help:
Featuring Sharron Rush and Jessica Looney of Knowbility, this webinar provides best practices and practical tips that can improve a website’s accessibility, as well as reviewing why accessibility is important. A transcript of the presentation is also available on the same page.
Featuring Knowbility collaborator Jane Vincent from the Center for Accessible Technology, this webinar provides a good introduction to web accessibility. A transcript of the presentation is also available on the same page.