Editors Draft: $Date: 2009/08/21 18:14:56 $
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[Draft $Date: 2009/08/21 18:14:56 $ latest version. analysis & changelog]


The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

At its foundation, the web is designed to be available to "all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability." Accessibility focuses on one aspect of this, and overlaps with others.

Accessibility is developing the web to meet its full potential to be usable by people with a diverse range of capabilities. Accessibility is about not disabling people from using your website or web software because they don't have a certain level of dexterity, eyesight, hearing, neurological function, or cognitive ability – which could be from a permanent impairment, injury, or simply aging. Accessibility is enabling your website to be used effectively by more people and in more situations.

Learn more below:

Examples of Web Accessibility

Well designed websites and web software can be used by people with disabilities. However, currently most are developed with accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for some people to use them. Below are just a few examples.

Alternative Text for Images

image of logo; HTML markup img alt='Web Accessibility Initiative logo'; popup with text @@
Example 1: Alt text for image

Alt text is the classic example. Images should include equivalent alternative text in the markup/code, as shown at the top of Example 1. (Some visual browsers display this text in a little popup when you hover over the image.)

If alt text isn't provided for important images, the web page is inaccessible, for example, to people who cannot see and use a screen reader that reads aloud the information on a page, including the alt text for the visual image.

Benefits and Best Practices

Alt text is also a good example of the things we do for accessibility overlapping with other best practices. For example, alt text benefits search engine optimization (SEO), data repurposing, [others?], mobile phone users who turn off images to lower bandwidth charges, users in rural areas with low bandwidth who turn off images to speed download, and more. Pretty much everything you do for accessibility has additional benefits like these.

Keyboard Input

[ image of a
mouse Xed out

and maybe
a keyboard ]

Some people cannot use a mouse, including many older users with limited fine motor control. An accessible website does not rely on the mouse; it provides all functionality via a keyboard. Then people with disabilities can use assistive technologies that mimic the keyboard, such as speech input.

Transcripts for Podcasts

Just as images aren't available to people who can't see, audio files aren't available to people who can't hear. Proving a text transcript makes the audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as to search engines and other technologies that can't hear.

Providing transcripts for podcasts and audio files is easy and relatively inexpensive. There are services where you can e-mail the audio file or point to it online, and they send you back a transcript in HTML for a nominal fee. Then do a quick read-through for quality assurance, put it in your website template, point to it from where the audio file is linked, and it's done.

Make Your Website Accessible

Most of the basics of accessibility are even easier and less expensive than providing transcripts. However, they are currently not well integrated into web software, education, or development process. If you are new to accessibility, it takes some time and effort to learn the issues and solutions. A starting place is the Introduction to Web Accessibility.

Some of advanced accessibility issues are more complicated and take more development time and effort. W3C provides extensive resources to help make your website accessible, such as Understanding WCAG 2.0: A guide to understanding and implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Using authoring tools that support accessibility makes it easier for website developers. Browsers also play a role in accessibility. See Essential Components of Web Accessibility.

Accessibility is a must for developers and organizations that want to create high quality websites and web software, and not exclude people from using their products.

The Case for Web Accessibility

It is essential that the web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities. Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes web accessibility as a basic human right.

There is also a strong business case for accessibility. Organizations with accessible websites benefit from search engine optimization (SEO), reduced legal risk, demonstration of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and improved usability for older users and mobile phone users. Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization describes social, technical, financial, and legal benefits of web accessibility.

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at W3C

Because of the extreme importance of accessibility, W3C has a dedicated Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). WAI brings together people from industry, disability organizations, government, and research labs from around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the web accessible to people with disabilities.

Learn More

WAI provides a wide range of resources on different aspects web accessibility standards, education, and policy, including:

Current Status of Specifications

Learn more about the current status of specifications related to:

These W3C Groups are working on the related specifications: