The responsibility of web design is to consider the needs and expectations of the user above all. As the web has grown, the user base has grown considerably. The web environment has made substantial work towards accommodating the diversity of users – from differences of hardware, software, internet service or even language. However, far too often the accessibility of a website is neglected.
Accessibility is a set of proper coding and design practices that make a website more usable for people with disabilities. The internet has broken many barriers of use, but relies heavily on a small set of control and information display mechanisms – visual screens, keyboard, mouse and touch interfaces. With a bit of care, the content of a website can be easily made available to much a more generous set of possible points of access. When neglected, however, a website will be simply unusable to a substantial number of people.
This chart compares estimated U.S. populations aged 15+ of people with disabilities relevant to web accessibility to 15+ populations of entire countries. Thus the U.S. demographic with a hearing disability is roughly two thirds the 15+ population of Canada, and three times the 15+ population of Denmark.
15+ populations per country were estimated using 2010 demographic percentages applied to 2018 totals, all from the CIA World Factbook. U.S. populations with disabilities were estimated using the estimated 15+ population applied to percentages in the 2014 Americans With Disabilities study.
There are currently several overlapping standards for web accessibility, and the process of development is ongoing. However, there are both general principles and concrete steps that can be taken, depending on the website in question, to be as accessible as possible. This includes flexibility in control and navigation, proper tagging to work with known accessibility software, and limiting the ambiguity of controls and structure.
Much of accessibility is a part of universal design, which emphasizes going beyond simple “compliance” or “accommodation”, and incorporating accessibility into the core of the page design itself. Simplicity, flexibility and clarity of design, purpose and information presentation create a more streamlined and accessible result for all users. Above all, accessibility is about taking the universal, user-centered promise of the internet seriously and giving it the attention that it deserves.