"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Accessible Web design is based on the principle of universal design which means that Web content can be obtained and understood by as many potential users as possible. While accessibility may be conceptually linked to people with disabilities, accessibility also means that people with older modems and earlier versions of browsers can use the Web site equally as well as people with the latest hardware, software, and fast Internet connections.
Making Web sites accessible benefits all users by making the site easier to use. In addition, sites will be more available to all users, regardless of what user agent they are using (e.g., desktop browser, voice browser, mobile phone, automobile-based PC, etc.) or constraints they may be operating under (e.g., noisy or noiseless surroundings, under- or over-illuminated rooms, in a hands-free environment, etc.).
People with disabilities represent a large portion of the population. 54 million Americans are disabled (20% of the population). Eight percent of the US population has visual, learning, cognitive, auditory, or physical dexterity disabilities severe enough to affect their ability to access the Web.
Potential difficulties using the Web for people with disabilities include:
- May not be able to see, hear or move.
- May have difficulty reading or comprehending text.
- May not be able to use a keyboard or mouse.
Potential difficulties for all users include:
- May have a text-only screen, a small screen, or a slow Internet connection.
- May be in a situation where their eyes, ears, or hands are busy or interfered with (e.g., driving to work, working in a loud environment, etc.).
- May have an early version of a browser, a different browser entirely, a voice browser, or a different operating system.
Federal/State Statutes & Policies
There are several federal statutes that regulate Web accessibility including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990); and the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Section 508. The US Department of Justice has ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act does apply to Web sites. Additional information is available from the Policies Relating to Web Accessibility Page at the W3C.
In New York State, the following policies regulate accessibility to technology and Web accessibility:
In New York State, Policy 99-3 adopts Conformance Level ?A? (all Prior checkpoints are satisfied) of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In addition, each site must have a contact mechanism so individuals who might have trouble accessing any portion of the site can report the problem.
The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international, vendor-neutral consortium with over 400 members that promotes the evolution and interoperability of the Web. The mission of the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative is to promote a high degree of usability for people with disabilities.
The W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities. There are two general themes of accessible design:
- Ensuring graceful transformation by creating pages that remain accessible despite constraints including physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities, work constraints, and technological barriers.
- Making content understandable and navigable which includes making the language clear and simple, and providing understandable mechanisms for navigating within and between pages.
The WCAG contains fourteen guidelines or general principles of accessible design. Each guideline has checkpoint definitions that explain how the guideline applies in typical content development scenarios. There are links from the checkpoints to a separate document on techniques where implementations and examples of the checkpoint are discussed.
Each checkpoint has a priority level assigned based on the checkpoint's impact on accessibility:
- [Priority 1]: A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document.
- [Priority 2]: A Web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document.
- [Priority 3]: A Web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document.
The WCAG defines three levels of conformance:
- Conformance Level "A": all Priority 1 checkpoints are satisfied;
- Conformance Level "Double-A": all Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints are satisfied;
- Conformance Level "Triple-A": all Priority 1, 2, and 3 checkpoints are satisfied;
In 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 has become the standard for accessibility at many colleges and universities. See the Section 508 Page for more information.