In this day and age, everyone has been reliant in the use of internet. Shopping clothes, ordering food, doing work, communicating with loved ones, buying grocery supplies, paying bills–you name it, we can do it all online. It has even become more essential in our lives when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We were able to stay at home and our needs were delivered on our doorstep with just one click on our computers, cell phones or tablets. Have you ever wondered if all of these services online are accessible for everyone, especially for persons with disabilities? What do we mean when we say “accessible website?” Let’s discuss those further.
Web Accessibility and Assistive Technologies
A lot of people have been wondering how a person with visual impairment like myself can access the web, use the computer and cellphone. This has become possible because of the different assistive technologies that have been developed over the years. According to the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), Assistive Technologies are “software and hardware that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web. These include screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot read the text, screen magnifiers for people with some types of low vision, and voice recognition software and selection switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse.” These assistive technologies are a great deal of help for persons with disabilities like myself in accessing the web, but they can only do so much. They have their limitations, which are mainly caused by web inaccessibility. Websites must be designed with everyone’s needs in mind, including persons with disabilities. Websites should be compliant with the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) so they can be accessible for everyone.
What is web accessibility? W3C states that, “Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with the Web and contribute to the Web.” As a person with a visual impairment, screen readers help me navigate the web. Screen readers, however, cannot read image text like memes and screenshots. Images have to have alternative texts to be considered accessible. Screen reader users also cannot perform tasks that require using the mouse like clicking and dragging to activate links or buttons. Interactive elements have to be keyboard accessible for visually impaired users like myself to perform tasks independently. Even with the help of screen readers, we still have a hard time filling online forms if buttons, text fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, and drop-down menus are not labeled correctly. These are just a few examples of website inaccessibility from a perspective of a screen reader user.
Importance of Web Accessibility
Internet has now really become essential in our lives. Can you imagine if persons with disabilities could not access the same content that internet provides as users without them do? Many people with disabilities are living independently. How can blind people buy their groceries online if they cannot read the options because these options are all images without alternative text? How could they confirm their purchases if the “Place Order” button can only be activated through a mouse click? That’s what we who have disabilities struggle with every day whenever we access the web.
Web accessibility does not only affect tasks like buying groceries online but our overall Internet experience. It affects how we do work, how we handle our finances and communicate with our family and friends. It also affects how we access news and important information. The pandemic and the past U.S. election alone have caused blind people and deaf people to struggle in accessing information regarding these important issues. A lot of news outlets and governments are still not providing alternative texts when releasing information through images and captions for their video interviews and announcements. It only shows that web accessibility should be discuss more. Corporations and organizations must make more of an effort to show how accessibility is important to employees and customers with disabilities.
Technological innovations should aim to make everyone’s lives better and not just a certain population of the world. These technological advancement like the World Wide Web should work for you, me, and all society’s disenfranchise people. Like the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs). says, “leaving no one behind.” I hope that we all get to apply this on our work and on our organizations. I look forward on the day where corporations and developers will not be only following the WCAG just in compliance to the law but because they genuinely want to consider and include everyone. Let’s all push for a more inclusive and a more accessible World Wide Web.