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The Importance of an Accessible Website

Friday, December 28th, 2007

The importance of ensuring your website is accessible to all users, whether disabled or restricted to low-end computers should not be underestimated. This article considers why it is important to ensure your website is accessible.

The ethical case

In a world of corporate social responsibility, it does not seem ethical to exclude anyone from information, services or products simply because of a disability. Furthermore, if it comes to light that you are doing this, you stand to alienate other users due to your lack of ethics. The internet is potentially a marvellous, life-changing resource for disabled people, but this is dependent on website creators producing accessible sites.

Increase the number of people that can view your website

This is one of the most obvious arguments for increasing the accessibility of your website. A larger number of visitors is generally one of the goals of many websites, as it can translate into increased publicity, sales, etc. The more accessible your website is, the greater the number of potential visitors your have.

Government contracts

A website that does not meet accessibility criteria may not qualify for gaining government work, as the government may be obliged to use service providers or suppliers that meet these criteria.

Accessibility improves search engine optimization

The act of making your code accessible carries with it an unforeseen benefit. Web search engine have small programmes called “bots” that traverse the internet, calling up websites and reading their code. As with any machine, their sophistication is basic, and they are not able to understand pictures or make sense of complicated Javascript or other code. As a result, these bots can be seen as an example of a user with accessibility issues. By making sure your code is accessible, you ensure that these bots can absorb all your code and information, leading to a more extensive of your website.

You may be sued!

Many countries now have legal requirements for providing access to all users, which means websites that do not comply, are potential targets of litigation. Generally, this will apply to websites that are providing a service: if the laws of the country entitle everyone to equal service from brick and mortar businesses, it is likely the same is expected from online businesses. Here are some examples:

The United States
There have already been lawsuits against website publishers, some of which were settled out of court (see this news story). Although there is no legislation that deals specifically with disability on the internet, cases such as the (currently) ongoing National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation indicate that the debate is far from over.
The United Kingdom
To date no case has been brought to court regarding infringement of access to a website. However, in 1999, an explicit reference to the “access to and use of means of communication” as something that must be provided equally was added to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Ch. 50, s. 19.
Canada
Although no case has been brought to court, the likely precedent that would be applied would be from the Maguire v SOCOG decision in Australia.
Australia
In 1999, prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Bruce Maguire, a blind man, successfully sued the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games for an inaccessible website (Maguire v SOCOG). This case has set a precedent for not only Australia, but for other countries around the world.

More information

As the principal developer of internet standards and recommendation, W3C is the authoritative voice on issues relating to accessibility. Visit the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative.

Real Free Websites believes in an equitable world and creates websites that are as accessible as possible.

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