Web Content Takes the Access Ramp: Designing Sites with Accessibility in Mind

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Making Content Accessible
If you have not moved toward making your site accessible, experts say that it's only good business to do so: it provides a much broader audience for your content, and makes your content adhere to solid design principals. Jim Thatcher, an accessibility consultant from Austin, Texas, says it is not only about business; there is a moral element too. "Some people want to make it a business case. I think it is a civil right. To offer airline fares cheaper on the Web and then not make them accessible to people with disabilities is not fair," Thatcher says.

Jerry Neri, regional VP of sales at Thomson NETg, a division of Thomson that generates Web-based technology courses, agrees. He says that beyond his requirement to make his content conform for federal government clients, he wanted his organization to be seen as an accessibility leader. "As far as meeting the 508 standard, we've done that and we are now going beyond that. It's important to us to be recognized as leaders in our market in regards to compliance, and it is good business practice for us to recognize those individuals who are disabled to be able to use our content to become certified and to meet their goals with regards to career ambitions. It's the right thing to do," Neri says.

Thatcher also emphasizes that making content accessible means you have created clean code with strong underlying design that works well for those who have no accessibility issues. "Good Web design is accessible design," he says. For example, if you create headings with proper HTML heading markers, assistive technology will be able to move easily through the structure of your site by going from heading to heading, but search engines are also better tuned to information you put in clearly marked headings, and it is easier for sighted people to follow. 

Rhu from TecAccess says that accessibility is not just for people with obvious issues like total blindness. It crosses an entire spectrum including people who have a range of sight issues, people with conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis that make it difficult to operate a mouse or move the mouse to a specific target, and even those who lack the latest and greatest technology. "Accessibility is not only for people with profound disabilities. It's for a lot of people: those for whom English is a second language, people who temporarily have disabilities, and people who don't have access to the latest equipment. I don't have broadband; I still have dial-up, so I have accessibility problems, not because I have a disability but because I have accessibility issues," she says. 

If you still need to be convinced that you should be designing with accessibility in mind, consider that in 2003, New York state Attorney General Elliot Spitzer filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act against Priceline.com and Ramada.com. He argued the two sites had failed to make their Web sites accessible, thereby depriving blind and visually impaired individuals from accessing the site's content. According to a press release on Spitzer's Web site, the two companies settled with the attorney general in August, 2004, and agreed to implement a variety of accessibility standards based on W3C recommendations. 

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