People with disabilities want to buy things online, find out about local events, read product reviews, apply for jobs, donate money to causes they support, volunteer, sample creations by musicians or photographers or other artists, sign up for events, and on and on, just like anyone.
But if the website they are visiting has not been designed to be accessible to everyone, many of those people are left out. These people may be blind and using a special tool to navigate the web. Or a person with a mobility issue that doesn't allow them to hold down two keys at once. Or a person with a hearing impairment who relies on captioning or transcriptions to be able to access information in a video or podcast.
A company or organization that doesn't have an accessible website leaves out potential customers, supporters, employees, volunteers, clients, and on and on. 71% of people with disabilities leave a website immediately if it is not accessible, according to 2017 research conducted by the governance committee of Section508.gov in the USA, as quoted on this 3playmedia website.
A study from 2019 by the nonprofit RespectAbility found that most foundations and nonprofits aren’t doing enough – if anything – to enable people with disabilities to have the access and accommodations they need to fully participate in the work these organizations are doing - not as program participants, as volunteers, even as donors. The study included a review of websites and online videos by nonprofits. “Philanthropy-serving organizations don’t know what they don’t know and often haven’t even thought about including people with disabilities,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Even among well-meaning groups who are engaged in a lot on racial and gender equity overall, disability is missing.”
In addition, studies show that websites become more "future proof", meaning that, as our tools that we use to access the web and apps constantly evolve, our accessible websites can be accessed by all that new, emerging technology.
It's also worth noting that if your organization has received federal or state funding, you are legally required to comply to Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which mandates that websites be accessible. Also, in some court cases, judges have determined that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires online accessibility as well. Regardless of what the law says, however, accessibility makes good business sense.
It's worth noting that accessible online design helps everyone, not just people with disabilities:
- A closed-captioned video or a transcribed podcast can be experienced by someone who is in a noisy location and does not have earphones, or someone who is in a very quiet location and does not wish to disturb others with the audio and does not have earphones.
- A closed-captioned video can be helpful to someone learning English.
- A transcribed podcast allows someone who prefers to read rather than listen to be able to get your podcast’s information.
- An accessible web site can be viewed on a variety of devices, including smart phones and tablets, used by a variety of people.
- Web pages that have clear titles and are organized using descriptive section headings are easier for EVERYONE to navigate.
- People who don’t consider them disabled can struggle with reading text on a page with poor color contrast or with text that is too small for them to read.
- A person with a broken arm will very much appreciate if functionality that is available by mouse should also available by keyboard.
- All users appreciate being able to pause, stop or adjust the volume of audio that is played on a website.
Knowbility has been advocating for websites that welcome everyone since 1998, and our nonprofit launched with the first Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR). Knowbility continues to hold this rally every year both as a way to give web designers and developers a practical outlet for using their accessible website design skills and as a way to turn nonprofits, NGOs, charities, community groups, schools and artists into supporters of accessibility and digital inclusion, reaching audiences far beyond IT professionals. We want AIR participants to play an essential, unique role in evangelizing about digital inclusion, long after the rally ends.
For a full exploration of what the standards are for website accessibility, see the Introduction to Web Accessibility at W3C/WAI.