Before your organization begins efforts to address web site and information systems accessibility for people with disabilities, you need to understand what accessibility is, why it is important, and how to achieve it.
What is Accessibility?
Something is "accessible" when it can be used by people with disabilities. In the same way buildings have ramps for people using wheelchairs, information systems and web sites need to be accessible to employees or customers who are blind, deaf, or physically disabled.
When an information system is accessible, its screens can be magnified and color-enhanced, its text can be read aloud with computer synthesized speech, its audio tracks can be translated to text as closed captions, and it can be operated using special keyboards or voice commands.
Why is Accessibility Important?
Accessibility is the Law
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires governments and businesses to accommodate their employees with disabilities and to ensure that information on their web sites is accessible to customers with disabilities as well. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that almost all Federal information technology be accessible as of June 2001. In Illinois, the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act requires that information technology developed, purchased, or provided by the State of Illinois be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Several high-profile lawsuits, involving America Online, Priceline.com and Ramada.com, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of Arkansas, and Target, have begun to test the accessibility laws and more are sure to follow.
Accessibility is Good Business
People with disabilities can be your customers and your employees. An accessible web site or information system enables you to tap into this resource when others cannot. The same techniques that make information systems accessible also open the doors for use on today's pocket PCs and web-enabled phones. And, improving accessibility almost always makes your systems easier and more efficient for anyone to use.
The World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative has developed a suite of resources designed to help an organization develop a customized business case for web accessibility: Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization: Overview.
Where Do I Start?
Many people with disabilities use specialized "assistive technologies," like screen readers, screen magnifiers, and speech recognition software, to access web content. These assistive technologies are very powerful tools that do most of the work for you. Your job is to make sure that your site is compatible with these tools and with the accessibility features built in to operating systems and web browsers. Web accessibility standards provide you with guidelines on how to develop web sites and web applications that work with web browser accessibility features and assistive technologies:
- W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - comprehensive, including 65 checkpoints divided into three priority level.
- Federal "Section 508" Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards - 16 minimal requirements.
- Illinois Web Accessibility Standards - a practical, easy-to-understand compilation of the W3C and Federal standards.
Following the guidelines is definitely the place to start in designing your web site to be accessible, however, each of these sets of guidelines is still being tested, perfected, and revised. On top of that, web technologies and assistive technologies continue to change every day. Even if you have followed all the guidelines, it still comes down to human judgment and thorough testing to make sure you have actually achieved accessibility. MSF&W's accessibility services can help you with this process.
Who Can Help?
Illinois Accessibility Resources
- MSF&W Information Technology Solutions (http://www.msfw.com) - MSF&W is an information technology consulting company that provides information, services, and training regarding information accessibility; MSF&W helped the State develop the Illinois Web Accessibility Standards in 2002 and assisted in the development of the Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act.
- Illinois Center for Instructional Technology Accessibility (http://cita.uiuc.edu) - CITA, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provides a wealth of information regarding accessibility, including the Web Accessibility Best Practices and Functional Accessibility Evaluator.
- Illinois Assistive Technology Program (http://www.iltech.org) - IATP is a not-for-profit organization that provides information and assistance regarding assistive technologies and accessibility, including a demonstration center and loan program.
National/International Accessibility Resources
For more information about accessibility, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (217) 698-3535 · (217) 698-1353 TTY.