Accessibility is one of the World Wide Web's greatest strengths, but it is a strength that is disappearing as authors create Web pages that are "best viewed" in a narrow range of browsing environments. Some authors are willfully slicing the size of their potential audience without realizing the significant benefits of accessibility or the ease of implementing many accessibility improvements.
Accessible Web sites provide the maximum potential audience by allowing any Web user to access a site. Some sites unnecessarily restrict their audience based on the browser, resolution, or settings that the user prefers. Each "best viewed with..." statement tells a portion of users to go away--a message that is not usually considered good business sense.
An accessible site allows all users to access it, regardless of their browser, resolution, settings, or eyesight. Accessible sites are open to the world's 750 million disabled people, including the sizeable blind population. Through better authoring, Web information providers can avoid shutting out the world's disabled population from the information age, and can garner a good portion of this largely ignored market.
On the Web, the "blind population" includes the robots of search engines. Since the search engines' robots are text-only and generally support only HTML 2.0, accessibility can be a significant advantage in getting favorably indexed by the search engines. Sites that hide content in ALT-less images are hurting their chances of being found by users.
Accessible Web sites provide greater flexibility for the future growth of the Web. While the Web is often considered to be a visual medium, accessible Web pages adapt to allow aural and Braille presentations. While aural browsing is common today among the blind, it may become increasingly common in the future through in-car Web browsing, telephone browsing, or the "Web Walkman." Telephone browsing is a reality today with NetPhonic's Web-On-Call, an application that allows information providers to make their Web sites available by telephone--dramatically increasing the potential audience by reaching beyond computer users. By writing accessible pages, authors provide their clients and users with the flexibility needed to adapt to these innovative technologies.
Carefully written HTML provides accessibility at little or no cost. By removing this accessibility and using HTML as a third-rate layout language, authors throw away their sites' flexibility and usability while reducing their potential audience.
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Copyright © 1997 Liam Quinn. All rights reserved.