Why Build Accessible Websites?

Support People with Disabilities

Accessible websites can make a real impact in many people’s lives.

A Significant Number

A 2001 survey by the New Zealand Office for Disability Issues found that one in five New Zealanders has a disability. The United Nations estimates that one in ten of the world’s population lives with a disability. We tend naturally to develop various sensory, motor, and cognitive impairments as we age. This means that as we continue to live longer and populations grow older, the number of persons with disabilities is only going to go up.

At the same time, more and more information and services, as well as a larger portion of our everyday social interactions, are moving online.

Improve People's Lives

People who might otherwise be unable to obtain and use the same information and services most of us take for granted are learning to rely on the web. Accessible websites can afford them a certain independence and dignity, and enable them to tackle everyday activities such as reading and learning, working, shopping, communicating with friends and family, and simply participating in community.

This can make a big difference for those living with sensory, motor, or cognitive disabilities. It can benefit people who are completely blind or deaf or unable to use their hands, as well as those with mild hearing or vision loss. Accessible sites can equally make a positive impact for individuals who have difficulty reading, or who have arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. It can even help someone with a temporary injury that prevents them from interacting with websites in the way they are used to.

Promote a Culture of Accessibility and Inclusion

Apart from the well-known business reasons and legal grounds, building accessible websites serves the important role of promoting a culture of inclusion.

Website accessibility benefits society generally by allowing more people to be actively engaged, contributing their perspectives and insight. As a result, it helps society reach a fuller potential through greater collaboration and innovation.

Inclusion Spurs Innovation

Significant advances for all of society have resulted from technological innovations in accessibility. For example, inventions such as the typewriter, telephone, and email, might not have occurred as they did were it not for the desire of their creators to overcome communication barriers associated with certain disabilities. In fact, the web itself, as a mechanism for communicating and sharing information, was conceived in part to support universal access.

Contributing to Society

As technological advances continue to change the way we communicate, work, play, and interact, a culture of accessibility and inclusion is critical for allowing persons with disabilities their rightful independence and participation as full members of society. By enabling the engagement of as many people as we can, we help to set society on a more cooperative, creative, and productive path to collectively address the social and technological challenges we will face.

The Better Business Case

There are a good number of practical reasons for making commercial websites usable by as many people as possible, regardless of their disabilities or the devices they use.

  • More visitors and a greater market

    Most informational or cultural sites are of potential interest to everyone, disabled or not. If you run a commercial site, it might not be immediately obvious why someone with a disability would care about your products or services. As parents, children, friends, and colleagues, however, disabled persons can be just as interested in learning about or purchasing what you offer. Someone in a wheelchair might not be able to ride a bicycle, but they may very much want to buy one for someone else.

  • Reducing site development and maintenance costs

    It costs less to build an accessible, standards-compliant site from the beginning than it does to retrofit one after the fact. It is also quicker and easier to make changes and add new features to an existing website that was developed from the beginning with accessibility in mind and according to web standards and best practices.

  • Reaching users of different browsers and mobile devices

    Accessible websites that implement web standards are more likely to work on most browsers and across multiple devices, increasing the number of potential customers able to access your site.

  • Improving site usability for everyone

    Websites that are usable by persons with disabilities are often easier for everyone to use, without there being any need to compromise on a site’s visual design or interactivity.

Ensuring your site’s accessibility will help you to meet such objectives and to set you apart as a professional enterprise concerned for its visitors or customers.

Increasingly, there are legal reasons for building accessible websites.

Human Rights Legislation

New Zealand’s human rights legislation, similar to that of many developed nations, prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of disability. While the legislation doesn’t specifically mention websites, it is not unreasonable to draw an analogy between a business’s physical operations and those that it takes online.

Internationally, governments, but also private companies and organisations, are becoming subject to legal challenges because of their inaccessible online content and service offerings.

International Accountability

As awareness of accessibility spreads, the notion that commercial websites should be required to be accessible is gaining traction. Now that New Zealand has ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it is accountable for actively encouraging private sector businesses to provide reasonable access to people with disabilities.

It may not be too long before more than just government sites are expressly mandated to be fully accessible.

Now's the Time

If your site is not already accessible, it is wiser to act now when first building or redesigning your site. It will certainly be cheaper than making changes to an already finished site, or responding to a formal request or complaint.