Estimated time to complete: 10 minutes
The accessibility glossary, produced by the Government of Canada’s Translation Bureau, defines an accessible website as:
A website that follows Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and that allows persons with disabilities to use assistive technologies, including text-to-speech software, to enable and assist with web browsing.
While we will go over the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) later on in this unit, let’s focus for now on the importance of enabling persons with disabilities to access web content.
Perhaps you may think of disability as something uncommon that you might only encounter once or twice in your role as a website editor. You might also think that disabilities are always immediately apparent. Neither of these things are true. Consider, instead, these statistics on disability in our community:
- As we mentioned in the introduction, over 1 in 5 Canadians have a disability. More precisely, 22% of people over 15 years of age in Canada have one or more disabilities (source: Statistics Canada, 2017)
- At Carleton, 10.9% of students are registered with Paul Menton Centre (PMC) as having a disability (source: Carleton University Coordinated Accessibility Strategy, 2018-2019)
- Another 25% seek accommodations for temporary or ongoing disabilities directly from faculty
- 6.4% of the Carleton workforce identify with a disability (source: Carleton University Coordinated Accessibility Strategy, 2018-2019).
If these statistics are surprising to you, it might be because of another common assumption: that disabilities are always easily perceived by others. This is also false. Some disabilities are classified as “invisible disabilities” or “hidden disabilities” precisely because they are not immediately apparent. Invisible disabilities are often overlooked, and often persons with invisible disabilities are unfairly made responsible for both educating others and self-advocating in order to receive support.
There is also a false impression that designing to accommodate for disabilities is to the detriment of users who do not have disabilities. This is not the case when accessibility is properly implemented. Consider an invention like the automatic door, which creates access for the entire community, from students carrying armfuls of textbooks to delivery people to anyone with mobility or dexterity impairments. Good websites use tools like this to increase usability and accessibility for every user.
In short, accessibility matters because it enables access for persons with disabilities. There are no excuses to justify the exclusion of persons with disabilities from virtual and physical environments. Yet, too often inaccessible web content perpetuates a “digital divide” that marginalizes website users with disabilities. Designing your website with accessibility in mind is one small step you can take to help bridge this digital divide.
The top priority of accessibility is to enable access to persons with disabilities. However, this is not the only benefit of an accessible website:
- It enables recruitment: enhanced accessibility on Carleton websites enables prospective students with disabilities to explore Carleton websites and shows our commitment to providing access to website content, encouraging these prospective students to consider joining our Carleton community.
- It enhances our reputation and sets a standard: not only do sites designed with accessibility in mind increase Carleton’s institutional reputation, it also sets a standard for other universities and institutions to follow suit and improve their own accessibility, leading to an overall more accessible digital environment.
- It can prevent lawsuits: institutions and businesses are sued for having inaccessible content. Rather than waiting for this to happen, we can pre-emptively seek to eliminate inaccessible content, avoiding both the frustrations on the part of the claimant, and the need for legal action.
- It’s the law: aside from the right of the user to sue over inaccessible content, Carleton also has legal obligations to meet under the 2005 Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This act codifies the right of persons with disabilities to access.
- It helps with search engine optimization (SEO): a lot of best practices for accessibility also happen to make web pages more appealing to search engines, encouraging them to direct more relevant traffic to your site.
- Accessible websites are good websites: as mentioned above, making a site more accessible for someone with a disability makes it more accessible to everyone.