Wednesday, September 19, 2007

2. Disability, Accessibility, the Law and the Businesses

There are millions of mental or physical disabled people live in the world. In most circumstances it is challenge for these people to curry out their day to day essential tasks. Disabled Web users are more likely to find a simple task such as searching information or purchasing an item much more difficult than users without disabilities.

Apart from moral responsibility, it is a legal requirement for businesses and individuals to provide equal services to disabled customers. Businesses should also remember that disabled users are the ones who need Internet the most as they can shop at home without having to go to the store and browse the shelves with the help of another person.

2.1. What is disability?

A disability is impairment or the inability to carry out normal social roles because of the lack of one or more abilities. The Disability Right Commission defines disability as people who have a long-term health condition that has an impact on their day to day lives. According to the same source one in five people of working age are considered by government and DRC to be disabled. (DCR: 2002)

According to Adobe (2006) a 1997 report by the U.S. Census Bureau categorizes 19.6 percent of the United States population as having some sort of disability. Within that group are individuals with visual impairments, hearing impairments, cognitive impairments, and motor impairments. Each category includes a much wider range of conditions. For example, visual impairments include limited vision, color blindness, and blindness. Disability categories can also include temporary disabilities; for example, someone with a broken wrist may have difficulty using a mouse but still needs access to the web to meet day-to-day job requirements.

At the same time, statistics about individuals with disabilities may be misleading. As people get older, most face a disability of some kind. While nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population have a disability, as the population ages, the proportion of people with disabilities grows higher.

According to European Commission (2003) there were over 37 million people with disabilities in the European Union in 2003. The following list of disabilities and their relation to accessibility issues on the Web has been prepared by W3C. Disability in this report means people who are affected by one or more of the following impairments.

  • visual disabilities
    • blindness
    • low vision
    • colour blindness
  • hearing impairments
    • deafness
    • hard of hearing
  • physical disabilities
    • motor disabilities
  • speech disabilities
    • speech disabilities
  • cognitive and neurological disabilities
    • dyslexia and dyscalculia
    • attention deficit disorder
    • intellectual disabilities

    • memory impairments
    • mental health disabilities
    • seizure disorders
  • multiple disabilities
  • aging-related conditions

2.2. How Disabled People Access the Web?

Users with disabilities rely on hardware and software to access the Web. These tools are called assistive technologies, which range from screen readers to touch screens and head pointers. Blind users of the web frequently use software called a screen reader to read the contents of a web page out loud. Two common screen readers are JAWS from Freedom Scientific and Window-Eyes from GW Micro. Screen readers enable users to hear, rather than read, the contents of a web page; however, a screen reader can read only text, not images or animations. Users with mobility issues may rely on the keyboard instead of the mouse to navigate web pages. For individuals with nerve damage, arthritis, or repetitive motion injuries, use of the mouse may not be comfortable or possible. Using only Tab and Enter on the keyboard, it is possible for these individuals to negotiate a page with ease. Many users of the Internet have the capability to navigate without a mouse and are simply unaware of it. In some cases, users may employ touch screens, head pointers, or other assistive devices. A touch screen allows an individual to navigate the page using her or his hands without the fine-motor control required by the mouse. A head pointer is simply a stick placed in a person's mouth or mounted on a head strap that the person uses to interact with a keyboard or a touch screen.

In these cases, it is very important that essential components of the page work without a mouse. Rollovers, drop-down lists, and interactive simulations are all examples of elements that typically depend on the mouse for user interaction. The designer or developer of these elements must ensure that keyboard-defined events are included along with mouse-defined events. (Adobe: 2006)

People with mobility disabilities have physical impairments that substantially limit movement and fine motor controls, such as lifting, walking, and typing. Mobility impaired individuals experience difficulties in using the computer's input devices and in handling storage media. (IBM: 2006)

2.3. What is Accessibility?

According to Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) (2005) Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging. Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, and physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.

Accessibility is about ensuring disabled people can access the Web content. Accessibility addresses two issues. First how users with disabilities access electronic information, and second, how web content designers and developers enable web pages to function with assistive devices used by individuals with disabilities. For the user with a disability, the challenge is to identify tools that provide the most convenient access to web-based and other electronic information. For the web content designer/developer, the challenge is to remove the obstacles that prevent accessibility tools from functioning effectively. In many cases, these challenges are relatively simple to overcome, but sometimes the solutions require some additional thought and effort. (Adobe: 2006)

Accessibility is not entirely for disabled people. It will also address issues concerning PDA users, web-enabled mobile phones users, people with temporary disabilities, people with minor vision problem and site owners who want to benefit from search engines.

The need to make the Web accessible arises from the fact that it has to accommodate and respond to the traffic from mobile phones, computers, pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and different screen sizes. There are blind people, young people, technology-savvy people, disabled people, and foreign people. There are different browsers and different platforms out there. Each browser displays a web page in different way. Newer browsers for example may support advanced presentation and interaction features, but they are not yet used by everyone surfing the Web.

The Web has to be built in a way that it needs to be accessible to many different types of visitors with different browsers with deferent degree of understanding the technology.

2.4. Accessibility Guidelines and Standards

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C: 2006) published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 as a working draft in April 27, 2006. WCAG 2.0 is the improved version of WCAG 1.0 which was introduced and recommended in 1999. WCAG 2.0 is a comprehensive accessibility strategy. Other WAI recommendations address the authoring tools used to create Web content and the user agents that display that material. By replacing HTML 3.2 in December 1997, to HTML 4.0 WAI introduced many important changes designed specifically to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities. With the publication of WCAG 1.0 in 1999, the WAI had completed a series of accessibility guidelines for the Web that represented a broad, international consensus among industry representatives, academic researchers, and members of the disability community. Following is the summery of the WCAG 2.0. The full document is available at:

Guideline One:

  • Provide text alternatives for all non-text content
  • Provide synchronized alternatives for multimedia
  • Ensure that information and structure can be separated from presentation
  • Make it easy to distinguish foreground information from its background

Guideline Two:

  • Make all functionality operable via a keyboard interface.
  • Allow users to control time limits on their reading or interaction.
  • Allow users to avoid content that could cause seizures due to photosensitivity.
  • Provide mechanisms to help users find content, orient themselves within it, and navigate through it.
  • Help users avoid mistakes and make it easy to correct mistakes that do occur.

Guideline Three:

  • Make text content readable and understandable.
  • Make the placement and functionality of content predictable.

Guideline Four:

  • Support compatibility with current and future user agents (including assistive technologies)
  • Ensure that content is accessible or provide an accessible alternative

2.5. Accessibility and the law

Many governments around the world have passed laws to ensure accessibility for disabled web users. The European Union is moving towards the Unified Web Evaluation Methodology (UWEM) to promote a methodology of evaluation of accessibility common to Europe. In 1999, as part of its eEurope initiative, the European Union European Commission issued a proposal titled "eEurope—An Information Society for All," which proposed that the European Commission and Member States would commit themselves to making the design and content of all public Web sites accessible to people with disabilities. The eEurope Action Plan 2002, adopted by the Feira European Council in June 2000, is a wide-ranging initiative designed to speed up and extend the use of the Internet to all sectors of European society. The action plan includes five targets for promoting "participation for all in the knowledge-based society." One specific target area is the accessibility of Web sites for people with disabilities. The plan emphasizes that "public sector Web sites and their content in Member States and in the European institutions must be designed to be accessible to ensure that citizens with disabilities can access information and take full advantage of the potential for e-government." (eEurope Action Plan :2002)

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in UK makes it unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a disabled person by refusing to provide any service which it provides to members of the public. From 1st October 1999 a service provider has to take reasonable steps to change a practice which makes it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of its services. (DDA; 1995) The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has been amended by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to place a duty on all public sector authorities to promote disability equality. The Act makes it unlawful for service providers, landlords and others to discriminate against disabled people in certain

circumstances. The Code of Practice addressing Web accessibility was published on 27th May 2002.

The Rehabilitation Act (1973) in the United States was the first legislation in which, for the first time, Congress declared that it is of critical importance to the nation that the equality of opportunity and equal rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are provided to all individuals, including those with disabilities. This was a commitment to the essential fact that the complete integration of all individuals with disabilities into normal community living, working, and service patterns was to be held as a final objective, and in making that commitment the federal government established principles of access that have been adopted by society as a whole.

The Rehabilitation Act has been amended several times over the years to address the experiences of implementation and the enormous changes in society and technology. The 1998 amendments to Section 508 mandate that information technology, like other public facilities, must be made accessible to everyone, regardless of disability. The first amendments of 1986 were legally non binding whilst the second amendment, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) has become law since the 7th of August 1998 with the approval from President Clinton.

2.6. Accessibility and Businesses

Some Web developers and their clients may think that there is no need to worry about a small number of blind people who will not be able to use their products such as HD TVs. And why should they bother about them. Nevertheless it is possible that blind people might buy those TVs for friends and family members if the site is accessible to them. Besides, the majority of visually impaired web users are not completely blind.

By having an accessible website businesses increase their website's ability to reach wide range of people, thus helping to increase market share. There are 37 million people with disabilities in Europe. In some countries disability numbers reaches as high as 8 to 10 percent.

If businesses wish to keep their loyal customers and their families and relatives, they should remember that as population ages, more of the existing customers and potential new customers will be people with disabilities or their families and their friends.

2 comments: said...

IMO, this is an excellent round-up on accessibility, disability and the web. Emad, have you come across any studies that show how a disabled person's choice of website can also positively influence the choice of his/her family and friends? Just wondering, coz I think when businesses see how large the ripple effect is, they might be persuaded to make more of an effort to comply with WCAG.

Hristo Yanev said...

Hi guys,
Thank you so much for this wonderful article! Here we all can learn a lot of useful things and this is not only my opinion!
Even BLNCK corp. and confirmed it!