Accessibility Basics Part 1: Overview of accessibility

In this 2-part article series, we take our popular webinar and presentation “Accessibility Basics” and present it in an easy-to-understand article format. Part 1 begins by explaining what web accessibility is and why it’s needed.

What is online accessibility?

Online accessibility is the ability for a person with a disability to understand and use a website, application, intranet, mobile app or program. The rules and regulations for web accessibility are governed by the Australian Human Rights Commission Disability Discrimination Act: Web Advisory Notes (in Australia), and, in the United States, by the Department of Justice, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Section 508, Section 504, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) and others. Online accessibility is achieved by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Web accessibility allows people with disabilities to access information like anyone else, interact with others without being categorized as “disabled” and undertake activities which they are not otherwise able to do.

How many people?

In both Australia and the United States, approximately 20% of the population has a disability that significantly affects their daily life. Due to the ageing population, this number is increasing.

Types of disabilities

Disabilities can affect vision, cognition, movement, hearing and/or mental health.

Disabilities affecting vision

Disabilities affecting vision include

  • blindness;
  • color blindness;
  • glaucoma; and
  • cataracts.

Common assistive technologies for people with vision disabilities are:

  • using audio descriptions on videos;
  • screen readers or braille readers;
  • braille keyboards or large size keyboards; and
  • magnifiers.

Common user techniques include:

  • increasing text size; and
  • increasing color contrast.

See these great videos from the W3C on Colors with Good Contrast and Text to Speech.

Disabilities affecting how the mind interprets information

Disabilities affecting how the mind interprets information (i.e. cognitive impairments) include

  • epilepsy and migraine;
  • dyslexia;
  • aphasia;
  • problems with memory; and
  • reading disabilities.

Common assistive technologies for people with cognitive impairments are:

  • screen readers;
  • speech recognition software;
  • hover highlighting; and
  • dictionary software.

Common user techniques include:

  • decreasing color contrast; and
  • using mobile phones to access web sites.

See these great videos from the W3C on Customizable Text and Speech Recognition.

Disabilities affecting movement

Disabilities affecting movement (i.e. physical impairments) include:

  • Cerebral palsy;
  • Motor Neuron Disease;
  • Huntington’s;
  • Parkinson’s; and
  • Quadriplegia.

Common assistive technologies for people with physical impairments are:

  • joysticks;
  • modified or on-screen keyboards;
  • touchscreens;
  • head wands;
  • switches; and
  • speech-to-text tools.

Common user techniques include:

  • using the keyboard only (without a mouse); and
  • increasing text size.

See this great video by the W3C on Keyboard compatibility.

Disabilities affecting hearing

Disabilities affecting hearing include:

  • Deafness; or
  • Hard of Hearing.

Common assistive technologies for people with hearing impairments is:

  • using captions on videos;
  • substituting visual alerts for audio alerts; or
  • including visual alerts with audio alerts.

Common user techniques include volume control.

See this great video by the W3C on video captions.

Disabilities affecting mental health

Disabilities affecting mental health include:

  • depression;
  • PTSD;
  • ADHD;
  • anxiety; and
  • OCD.

Mental health disabilities are not covered in WCAG.

A couple of common assistive technologies for people with mental health impairments are:

  • Spotify; and
  • Reader View (Reader View or Simplified View removes nonessential content on a webpage such as ads and social media links).

Common user techniques include:

  • trigger warnings (by the content author),
  • avoiding movement; and
  • using mobile phones to access web sites.

What’s next?

In the next article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

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