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Global Accessibility Awareness Day – May 9

Today, May 9, 2013, is the second year for Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

This day is meant to,

get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.”

The Internet and the World Wide Web have become essential resources in an individual’s daily life in the areas of education, employment, government, commerce, health care, entertainment and recreation, and social interaction.

The Web is used not only for receiving information but also for providing information and interacting with every member of society. Therefore, it is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web:

Most websites and web software have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities to use the Web. As more accessible websites and software become available, people with disabilities are able to use and contribute to the Web more effectively.

Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognizes Web accessibility as a basic human right, in particular,

To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet. (Article 9, section 2(g)

How important is Web accessibility to persons with disabilities?

WebAIM provides many useful examples:

The Internet is one of the best things that ever happened to people with disabilities. You may not have thought about it that way, but all you have to do is think back to the days before the Internet to see why this is so. For example, before the Internet, how did blind people read newspapers? They mostly didn’t. Audiotapes or Braille printouts were expensive—a Braille version of the Sunday New York Times would be too bulky to be practical. At best, they could ask a family member or friend to read the newspaper to them. This method works, but it makes blind people dependent upon others.

Most newspapers now publish their content online in a format that has the potential to be read by “screen readers” used by the blind. These software programs read electronic text out loud so that blind people can use computers and access any text content through the computer. Suddenly, blind people don’t have to rely on other people to read the newspaper to them. They don’t have to wait for expensive audio tapes or expensive, bulky Braille printouts. They simply open a web browser and listen as their screen reader reads the newspaper to them, and they do it when they want to and as soon as the content is published.

WebAIM provides many other examples of how the Internet or the WWW have assisted persons with other types of disabilities such as people with motor disabilities and people who are deaf. But they go on to explain what happens if the use of the Internet and WWW is inaccessible:

Despite the Web’s great potential for people with disabilities, this potential is still largely unrealized. For example, some sites can only be navigated using a mouse, and only a very small percentage of video or multimedia content has been captioned for the Deaf. What if the Internet content is only accessible by using a mouse? What do people do if they can’t use a mouse? And what if web developers use graphics instead of text? If screen readers can only read text, how would they read the graphics to people who are blind?

Persons with disabilities and seniors are an increasingly important customer base for most organizations. When these organizations have accessible websites, they reduce their legal risk, demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) and increase customer loyalty. Businesses would be unwise to purposely exclude persons with disabilities.

Suzanne Cohen Share wrote a post back in June 2012 on Why website accessibility matters? It has a lot of good information that fits the primary goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

Yosie Saint-Cyr
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor

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Yosie Saint-Cyr

Managing Editor at First Reference Inc.
Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., is a trained lawyer called to the Quebec bar in 1988 and is still a member in good standing. She practiced business, employment and labour law until 1999. For over 15 years, Yosie has been the Managing Editor of the following publications, Human Resources Advisor, Human Resources PolicyPro, HRinfodesk and Accessibility Standards PolicyPro from First Reference. Yosie is one of Canada’s best known and most respected HR authors, with an extensive background in employment and labour across the country. Read more
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