Web accessibility — why we need the internet for everyone

The internet must be accessible for everyone. It’s a human right, a legal right, and everyone benefits.

That was the message from Jason Kiss, senior adviser on Digital Engagement at the Department of Internal Affairs. We went to his presentation about web usability last week.

Image, Keyboard and words spelling 'win win'.

Accessibility benefits everyone. Image by Dennis Skley / CC BY-ND

Do you think you’re disabled?

In the last census, 24% of New Zealanders said they were disabled. That’s one of highest proportions in the world.

But what about you? Are you over 40, and did you leave your spectacles at home? If you can’t see your screen clearly, you’re temporarily disabled. Are you nursing a sprained ‘mouse wrist’? Are you distracted and seeing double after a weekend’s partying or a week’s broken nights nursing a new baby? Any of these things can count as a temporary disability. Your abilities are compromised, including how you can use the internet.

Web accessibility is a human right and a legal requirement

Founder of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, says, ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’

Internet access is enshrined in national and international law. The United Nations specifically singles out the internet and accessibility in its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New Zealand’s Human Rights Act says it’s illegal to discriminate against disabled people when providing goods and services — and that includes the web.

Web-accessibility lawsuits have been won in Canada, Australia, and many parts of the United States. The Canadian was unable to apply for jobs online. The Australian couldn’t access online results for the Olympic Games.

Often everyone likes things made for disabled people

The inventor of the typewriter had a blind lover. He created the machine to help her write more legible love letters.

Alexander Graham Bell worked to help members of the deaf community hear better. That led him to invent the telephone.

Screen readers were designed for people with low vision; they’re also used by fully sighted people who prefer listening to reading. Voice-recognition software is used by people who can’t type, and those who would prefer not to.

Accessibility has business and social benefits

There are clear benefits to getting accessibility right at the very beginning. For example:

Jason said, ‘A more socially conscious reason for building inclusive websites is that they offer individuals, especially those with disabilities, the opportunity to be independent, productive human beings, to participate in the world, to do all those everyday things that most of us take for granted. Inclusion:

Accessibility really is good for everyone.

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