Web accessibility FAQ

What is web accessibility? Web accessibility is on everyone’s lips at the moment. Stay knowledgeable with these frequently asked questions and answers designed to provide a comprehensive overview.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web Accessibility means making the web usable by everyone whatever their ability or disability.

What is PAS 78?

The new PAS 78 Guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites guidelines sets out how to commission an accessible website. This new guide has been designed to ensure that websites that are new or being maintained are user-friendly for people who have disabilities. The report was created through consultation with a wide variety of advocacy groups including the DRC, RNIB, AbilityNet and the W3C.

Crucially, following the advice provided by the guide may demonstrate compliance by the website owner with the UK Disability Discrimination Act which requires websites to be accessible to people who are disabled.

PAS 78 establishes the steps that you need to follow to ensure your website accommodates the widest possible audience, dealing with the creation of an accessibility policy, the selection of web developers, and the vital role of user testing and maintenance.

Ecru has practical experience of working alongside AbilityNet to achieve web accessibility for both the Crown Prosecution Service and Disability Action in Islington, and we can bring this cutting edge experience to your web project.

Why Make Websites Accessible?

According to W3C, the governing body of the World Wide Web, up to 20% of people are affected by some form of disability. A significant portion of people with disabilities can benefit from web sites specifically designed to be more accessible. In the US alone, there are currently estimated 52 million Americans who have cognitive, visual, hearing or physical disabilities which affect their ability to use computers and the Internet and the number is growing as people live longer. Even something as simple as the aging process - which affects us all, can make using websites significantly harder. Poor contrast between colours, small typefaces and unintuitive menu systems can make your website unreadable.

The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act has made it a legal requirement for companies and organisations to ensure that all can access their services and information. This act directly applies to websites and Internet services.

Increasing the accessibility of your online communications will:

  • increase sales (if you have something to sell)
  • increase audience reach
  • improve search engine listings
  • reduce loads on your server
  • reduce load on server bandwidth
  • reduce site maintenance costs
  • ensure your site complies with disability discrimination law
Where did it all begin?

In its childhood, the internet was an explosion of weird and wonderful things, published by developers for developers, with little regard for end users. Soon however, the commercial value of a global medium became apparent, and consideration for user interfaces and layout became a concern for developers as building websites became a profession in its own right.

The new breed of websites were fed by corporate purses and published company identities, mission statements, and contact details, and used programming languages such as JavaScript to change the colour of buttons and make menus appear, disappear, collapse and expand. Designers were drafted in to make the sites look good, colours became less garish, software gadgetry was used more sparingly and content was written by ‘web authors’.

By this time two main internet browsers had emerged as standard platforms for accessing websites, the main problem being that both differed largely in their approach to the delivery of web content. This meant developers had to either write code twice, one for each browser, or simply code for one type of browser over the other, hence the advent of subtle website disclaimers such as ‘optimized for xx browser’ at the bottom of a homepage.

As the internet evolved once more, and the importance of visitor hits became paramount in the new field of internet marketing, developers were forced to code websites that would work in many versions of both of the main browsers, ensuring a greater number of hits to a website. More frustratingly for developers this also meant rewriting a generation of websites to work across several types of browser.

Today, as the internet enters its late teens, both governments and the commercial sector have driven demand for websites to be usable and accessible to all, as the value of a generation of users excluded from the internet for whatever reason has finally been addressed. With laws passed in both the US and the UK to enforce accessibility regulations the internet world enters a familiar situation once more as an era of websites go under the knife for what should be a final re-design. It is hoped that from here on in, websites will be designed to incorporate browsers of all types including assistive technologies such as screen readers, braille readers, scanning software, and text only browsers.

What is the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Standard (WAI)?

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Standard (WAI) is a set of guidelines that have been devised by the W3C to assist developers and lawmakers in the task of enforcing website accessibility.

Most accessibility legislation throughout the world directly follows the official Web Accessibility Initiative Standard , specifying the documents and the version number; others have written their own versions or combined these with general usability or best practices guidelines. An excellent and current source for legislation and guidelines in different countries can be found at www.w3.org.

W3C recommendation, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 became a W3C recommendation May 5, 1999 and explains accessible use of Web technologies for page authors and site developers. It has three priority levels and three conformance levels, 14 guidelines, and over 60 checkpoints all of which can be found at their website.

Are there laws which affect web design?

Yes, there are two. These are the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

What is the Disability Discrimination Act?

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to end the discrimination which many disabled people face. This Act gives disabled people rights in the areas of:

  • employment
  • access to goods, facilities and services
  • buying or renting land or property.

Items of legislation that apply to web site design are found within the access to goods section of the legislation and include the following:

  • Since December 1996 it has been unlawful to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability;
  • Since October 1999 they have had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services.
What is the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act?

The Educational Needs and Disability Act became law on 11th May 2001. As a result, discrimination against disabled students in the provision of education, training and other related services is unlawful.

Who are the RNIB?

The RNIB stands for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The RNIB state that people with disabilities have a moral (and in some cases a legal) right to be able to use websites. They represent over 2 million blind and partially-sighted people. Their web site address is www.rnib.org.uk

Even something as simple as the aging process - which affects us all, can make using websites significantly harder.

Is your website accessible to disabled people? Email us or call us on 0800 0433 963 to discuss how we can help you.