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WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

Social Factors in Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization
[DRAFT revision incorporating WCAG 2.0 and Older Users]

Editors Draft: 8 June 2009 [changelog; change-marked version]
Status: This document is a draft and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list). The current published version of this document is at www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/

Page Contents


This page is part of a resource suite that describes the social, technical, financial, and legal and policy factors relevant to developing a customized business case for Web accessibility for a specific organization.

The importance of various social aspects of Web accessibility is different for specific organizations and situations. For example, one organization's goal might be to become a leader in corporate social responsibility, a different organization might be particularly interested in attracting capital from socially responsible investing sources, and another organization might be interested in demonstrating its focus on a specific social group, such as older people.

This page provides guidance on addressing social factors in a business case for Web accessibility.

Identifying Social Factors for a Specific Organization

The following questions can help identify how the social aspects of Web accessibility apply to the organization:

Web Accessibility is a Social Issue

Web accessibility focuses on people with all types of disabilities - visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities - including older people with age-related impairments.

Web Accessibility is Essential for Equal Opportunity

Use of the Web is spreading rapidly into most areas of society and daily life. In many countries the Web is increasingly used for government information and services, education and training, commerce, news, workplace interaction, civic participation, health care, recreation, entertainment, and more. In some cases, the Web is replacing traditional resources and service delivery.

The Web is an important medium for receiving information as well as for providing information and interacting with society. Therefore, it is essential that the Web is accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities. This basic human right is recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which specifically mentions the Internet and other accessible information and communications technologies (ICT). An accessible Web can also help people with disabilities and older people more actively participate in society.

The Web is an opportunity for unprecedented access to information for people with disabilities. That is, the accessibility barriers to print, audio, and visual media can be much more easily overcome through web technologies. For example, when the primary way to get certain information was go to a library and read it on paper, there were significant barriers for many people with disabilities, including getting to the library, physically getting the resource, and reading the resource.

When that same information is also available on the Web in an accessible format, it is significantly easier for many people to access the information. Therefore, people with disabilities can have more effective and efficient access to information through accessible websites — in some cases, where there was essentially no access to it before.

The Web is an opportunity for unprecedented interaction for people with disabilities. For example, some disabilities limit the type of work a person can do and an accessible Web can increase their employment options. An accessible Web also expands opportunities for communication, social interaction, and community participation for people with disabilities and older people with age-related impairments.

Barriers to Web Use

Currently there are significant barriers on the Web for many people with disabilities. Because most web developers do not make their web pages and web tools accessible, many people with accessibility needs have unnecessary difficulties using the Web, and in some cases, cannot effectively use the Web at all. For example, when developers require mouse interaction to use a website, people who cannot use a mouse can have great difficulty; and when developers do not include alternative text for important images, people who are blind cannot get the information from images. Many of these barriers also impact older users with accessibility needs due to ageing.

However, when websites are accessible, they enable people with disabilities to use the Web effectively. The document How People with Disabilities Use the Web includes scenarios that describe people with different disabilities successfully using the Web.

Number of People Affected

Estimating how many people are affected by Web accessibility is difficult for several reasons. Countries define disability differently and use different methods to determine the number of people with disabilities. Some common conditions that do affect people's use of the Web (such as color blindness) may not be considered disabilities in many countries. Not all disabilities affect access to the Web (for example, difficulty walking does not affect access to the Web, though difficulty moving one's hands does). Additionally, some people do not want to disclose their disability, and some older people do not consider their impairments a disability.

The United Nations Human Functioning and Disability page includes links to data for different countries. Market research such as The Market for Accessible Technology - The Wide Range of Abilities and Its Impact on Computer Use and Accessible Technology in Computing - Examining Awareness, Use, and Future Potential illustrates a different approach to estimating the percentage of computer users who might benefit from Web accessibility. Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review has statistics on ageing demographics and age-related impairments.

Overlap with Digital Divide Issues

The term "digital divide" is often used to refer to economic and social barriers to computer use for people without disabilities. Many people with disabilities are affected by the same economic and social factors, including very low rates of employment and consequently low income. Together with barriers in the physical environment and in computer technologies, these factors can result in:

An organization that is committed to reducing the digital divide can include in its business case a description of how Web accessibility can reduce the impact of economic and social barriers to web use for people with disabilities accessibility needs.

Overlap with Older Users' Needs

As more people live longer and older people use the Web more, making the Web work well for older users is becoming an increasingly important social factor. Many older people have age-related impairments that can affect how they use the Web, including declining:

These issues overlap with the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. Thus, websites and tools that are accessible to people with disabilities are more accessible to older users as well. Specific examples are listed in the Access for Older People section below.

For detailed research on ageing age-related impairments and Web accessibility, see Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review.

Web Accessibility Benefits People With and Without Disabilities

While the main focus of Web accessibility is people with disabilities, accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, including:

The Increased Website Use section of Financial Factors lists aspects of Web accessibility that increase usability, thus also benefiting people without disabilities. People with temporary disabilities, for example from an accident or illness, also benefit from Web accessibility.

Below are examples of how Web accessibility benefits others. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview has information about the WCAG references.

Access for Older People

The accessibility provisions that make the Web accessible provide many benefits for people with age-related impairments, even though they may not be regarded as having a disability. For example:

Older people with deteriorating vision benefit from:

Older people with reduced dexterity or fine motor control benefit from:

Older people with hearing loss benefit from:

Older people with cognitive decline benefit from many of the accessibility aspects list in the next section, Access for People with Low Literacy and People Not Fluent in the Language.

Additional aspects of Web accessibility that benefit older users are included in the analysis in the Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review.

Access for People with Low Literacy and People Not Fluent in the Language

Accessible websites benefit people with low literacy and people who are not fluent in the language of the website. Specifically, many of the aspects of Web accessibility for people with cognitive disabilities help people who do not know the language well, including:

In addition, accessible sites can be read by screen readers so people who have difficulty reading can benefit from listening to sites.

Access for People with Low Bandwidth Connections to the Internet or Using Older Technologies

Some aspects of Web accessibility benefit people with low bandwidth connections. Low bandwidth can be due to:

Some older technologies load pages very slowly and do not support features used on newer sites.

People with low bandwidth connections to the Internet and people with older technologies benefit from:

Access for New and Infrequent Web Users

Some people have little opportunity to use the Web because of the socioeconomic issues mentioned previously. Many older people are new users because the Web didn't exist when they were younger. New and infrequent web users benefit from aspects of accessibility such as:

Web Accessibility is an Aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Web accessibility provides improved access, interaction, and social inclusion for the people described above, which is a primary aspect of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Corporate social responsibility, also called corporate citizenship, corporate responsibility, or responsible business, generally means conducting business ethically and operating an organization in such a way that treats internal and external stakeholders ethically, increases human development, and is good for society and the environment. Web accessibility can impact an organization's employees, stockholders and board members, suppliers and vendors, partners and collaborators, customers, and others. Thus Web accessibility is an integral part of CSR in demonstrating an organization's commitment to providing equal opportunities.

Just as an accessible website can demonstrate CSR, an inaccessible website can undermine an organization's other CSR efforts.

The financial benefits of CSR are addressed in the Increases positive image section of the Financial Factors page.

Role of Organizations' Websites

When an organization's website is not accessible, it further excludes people with disabilities from society. When an organization's website is accessible, it empowers people with disabilities to participate in society. Providing an accessible website is one way an organization can demonstrate that it strives to meet the access needs of a diverse society.

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