Skip links: CONTENT Main Menu

Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario
"TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER"

         



An Accessible Internet - Now!

Our world is changing fast, faster than it ever has before, and that is a good thing for persons with disabilities. The disability community will ultimately benefit as Internet and web-based technology matures; the Internet is oblivious to borders, making uniform world accessibility standards an achievable goal.

Canada has the potential to be a leader in creating an accessible Internet. The federal government has come up with guidelines that apply to organizations and businesses subject to federal oversight. (Government of Canada - Common Look and Feel Guide: http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/clf-nsi/standards/1-1/w3c/w3c_e.asp ). Unfortunately the provinces play a pivotal role in the application of Accessibility Standards, and there is a reluctance to act decisively by the provinces.

The recent U.S. decision against Target Stores shows that websites are simply an extension of organizational activities and Internet based accessibility is just as important as the accessibility provided in any store. The standards applied in California closely mirror the standards that are evolving internationally.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a set of international standards that set objectives that should be met, and guides Web developers to the most effective way to make a website compliant. Compliance is a lot more complex than concentrating on how a website looks or performs with a specific technology; it must be compatible with a number of technologies, browser requirements and coding standards. The goal is to make all websites user-friendly for all people regardless of their ability.

Several different commentaries on the W3C standards can be found at www.cwd-o.org/cwdo/activities/accessibility/php References to a number of technical sources will allow any interested reader to get to the root documents that contribute to the W3C standards.

Legislation is only one part in achieving an accessible Internet. Trained web professionals who clearly understand the rules, and have a full working knowledge of what website accessibility is all about, form an integral part of achieving this goal. Unfortunately, despite protests to the contrary, the majority of website design professionals do not have the extensive level of skills needed to develop a fully accessible website in accordance with W3C standards. As a result the majority of websites specifically designed with accessibility in mind do not pass the minimum test.

This is not an indictment of governments or web professionals, it is a predictable situation because changes in the Internet are occurring at a dizzying speed that far outstrips the ability of lawmakers or suppliers to keep up. Lightning quick changes are the hallmark of the Internet and emerging web based commerce.

The solution needs to be a global one, there is absolutely nothing local about the impact of Internet based organizations. In a global forum a global solution is needed, the W3C standards form the framework for legislation everywhere in the world to provide a uniform base from which to achieve global accessibility objectives. More than that however, website designers and developers need to develop a collaborative association that is dedicated to excellence rather than continuing on the unfortunate path we see today of righteous independence that flies in the face of reason.

Ironically the cost of doing it right is very small. The estimate to fix the Target Stores website was US $90,000 but the company chose to spend many times that amount of money arguing that they had the right to decide when and how they would make their website accessible.

Designing an accessible website means making fundamental choices in the early stages, selecting options that get the job done right the first time rather than requiring remediation that can quickly double the investment needed to establish a website presence.

The implications for organizations and businesses in the future are clear, accessible standards will ultimately prevail. What then are the barriers that exist today that make the existing Internet experience so discriminatory against persons with disabilities? The barriers are embarrassingly few, and are so trite they make a mockery of the good intentions espoused by most organizations and web professionals.

There is no cost barrier, it costs no more to develop a fully accessible website properly at the outset. Additional costs only arise when it is not done right the first time and remedial action is needed.

Lack of education of web designers and developers, and the employers to whom they answer, is a significant hurdle that can only be overcome through development of educational programs with the concerted and committed involvement of web professionals.

The final and indisputably most difficult barrier concerns the ego of computer and web professionals. In the past two decades we have seen the development of a computer élite who view the rest of the world with disdain because they see themselves as the gatekeepers of wisdom that is not widely available. This mystique is ill placed and counterproductive to the development of a sustainable Internet based society.

To ensure all Canadians have an accessible door to the Internet world we need to act now, tell our governments and businesses that this is a priority, and keep up the pressure to ensure no new barriers are erected to block our full participation in society.

Jerry Ford
Interim Moderator
Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario.

More accessibility articles.