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Why Make a Web Site Accessible?

  1. It is the Right Thing to Do
  2. It is The Law
  3. It is a University Policy and Standard
  4. It is Good Strategy
  5. It is A Good Way to Avoid Problems

Goal 2 of the University of Minnesota Duluth's Strategic Plan is to, "Create a positive and inclusive campus climate for all by advancing equity, diversity, and social justice."

Accessible web design is socially responsible and equitable web design. It demonstrates that you are committed to providing equal access to web-based information to all people including users with disabilities. Improvements in making web sites accessible can help create a work and educational environment that supports all members of the university community and beyond. Accessible design demonstrates that you care about providing access to information for those who would otherwise be locked out and lose their opportunity to use the web.

Every person has the right to equitable access. To deny that right is to discriminate. It is tantamount to intentionally depriving someone an experience to acquire knowledge, to participate in an activity, to do something online to improve their life. Picture yourself standing in front of a person in real life, looking them square in the eyes, then firmly and definitively saying, "you don't matter."

We have an ethical responsibility to create an inclusive climate in which people with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities and freedoms as everyone.

2. It is The Law

As of June 21, 2001 rules were mandated by Section 508, 1194.22 of the Workforce Investment Act. 508 is an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law applies to all Web sites operated by federal government agencies. It requires web pages to comply with accessibility standards. Under the law, web sites are required to structure their design, content and underlying technologies to be accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 does not apply directly to university web sites (unless funded by federal grant money). However, the federal effort provides a good example of what can be done.

A series of lawsuits has made it evident that accessibility of Web sites under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes access for people with disabilities. Litigation, and threatened litigation, surrounding the issue is on the rise, exposing institutions to a potential claim that they are failing to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The argument, in a nutshell, is that institutions are violating Title III of the ADA prohibition on discrimination on the basis of disability because their web content site or app lacks certain functionalities (such as including a text equivalent for every non-text element) that would make them accessible to people with disabilities.

Typically courts measure accessibility by what the institution or organization has set as their standard.

3. It is a University Policy and Standard

The University of Minnesota has an Accessibility of Information Technology Policy and Web Accessibility Standards.

The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), level AA, serve as Web accessibility standards for the University of Minnesota. WCAG is the definitive technical reference gathering together information on Web accessibility. These are basically the rules to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

4. It is Good Strategy

Accessible Design is Good Design for Everyone

The same methods that make your site accessible will make your site more usable for all who visit it. For instance captions provide good universal design.

Besides people with disabities, several populations may not use a graphical browser or may turn graphics off. This may be due to hardware limitations such as:

  • Older computers or browser versions
  • Slow connections
  • High per-minute charges for Internet connection
  • Wireless Web connection

By creating accessible Web sites, you are reaching these groups as well, extending the range of communication. Good design is good design. Just as sidewalk curb cuts - originally intended for people using wheelchairs - also benefit parents wheeling strollers and individuals on roller blades, accessible web design benefits more than just people with disabilities.

Accessible Design Helps Search Engines Find Your Site

Search engines are effectively blind. Providing text equivalents (e.g., ALT attributes and captioning), good document structure, proper headings, and metadata improves search engine listings. A secret benefit of accessibility is higher search engine ranking. The more human-accessible a web site is the more machine-accessible it is. Google-bot will thank you. The cleaner, more semantically rich your content, the easier it is to index.

5. It is A Good Way to Avoid Problems

Inaccessible web sites are a liability and can lead to complaints, intervention by regulatory agencies, bad publicity, expensive site redesigns, and lawsuits.

Disability rights organizations have filed lawsuits against universities and colleges. Higher education is at the brink of a culture shift where accessibility is authentically considered when developing and implementing web sites and applications.

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