This site has been modified to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. The logo indicates that this site meets the criteria set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) an international organization dedicated to creating guidelines and standards to make the web accessible to people with disabilities.
We are indebted to the following individuals and organizations for their generous assistance, guidance and advice about how to make this site more accessible and for their work to make the web a more accessible place: 1) Jessie Lorenz, Director, Public Policy and Information, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, www.lighthouse-sf.org and 2) Dmitri Belser, Executive Director, Center for Accessible Technology, www.cforat.org
WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY: WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
Dmitri Belser, Executive Director, The Center for Accessible Technology
Use of the Web is spreading rapidly into most areas of daily life. In the United States, the Internet is increasingly used for government information and services, education and training, commerce, news, workplace interaction, civic participation, health care, recreation, and entertainment. In some cases, the Web is replacing traditional resources and is becoming the only way to access some services and information.
The Internet has the potential for extraordinary access to information for people with disabilities. Barriers that existed in print, audio, and visual media can be easily overcome through Web technologies. As an example, when the primary way to get information was to go to a library and read it on paper, there were significant barriers for many people with disabilities. These included:
- getting to the library (difficult for people in wheelchairs, blind people)
- physically getting the resource (reaching the top shelf is difficult from a wheelchair)
- reading the resource (impossible to do when you're blind )
For people with disabilities who have computer access, electronic access often takes the place of the accessible front door of an organization. People with disabilities are heavy users of the Web, and the need for access is a critical component of independence for people with disabilities. People with disabilities tend to be early adopters of technology, and were among the first to focus on the Internet as the best way to get information.
Digital accessibility impacts people with many disabilities.
- For blind users, the interaction between the website and the assistive technology (e.g. JAWS, WindowEyes) is critical. A well designed website can enable screen reader users to easily navigate the site and get the information they want.
- For low vision users, the ability to enlarge the website (using either assistive technology such as ZoomText or by changing system preferences) is key to getting information.
- People with limited mobility have difficulty with sites that require extensive navigation. Creating a site that limits the number of mouse clicks and scrolling makes it more accessible for these users.
- For people with learning disabilities and other cognitive issues, site layout is important. Using icons that are easily recognizable, creating a standard look for each page, and having an intuitive layout are all strategies for increasing access for these users.
When information is also available on the Web in an accessible format, it is easy for everyone to get - regardless of disability. The result; people with disabilities have effective and efficient access to information through accessible websites - in most cases, where there was no access before.
Disability access in the physical world and on the Web is often a hidden issue, it only affects the people that are denied access - you never notice things that you can do, you only the things that you can't do. A person without a disability doesn't notice the lack of curb cuts, until they try pushing a baby stroller across a busy street. The neighbor who uses a wheelchair has been well aware of the problem for a long time.
Web access is an even more mystifying concept. Most people have no idea how a website works, and they have no idea what changes are required to make the site accessible to a blind user. Even most Web developers have very little understanding of Web accessibility; it's an area that is at the forefront of technology.
As a result, there are significant barriers on the Web for many people with disabilities. Because most Web developers do not make their Web pages accessible, many people with disabilities have huge difficulties using the Web, if they can use it at all. For example, when developers require mouse interaction to use a website, people who cannot use a mouse are out of luck; and when developers do not include alternative text for important images, people who are blind cannot get the information from images.
By making websites accessible for people with disabilities, organizations, businesses and individuals see multiple benefits: their programs and services are made more accessible to their potential clients with disabilities; their sites tend to be more user friendly for all site visitors; and they send a message about the importance of inclusion.