The Inaccessible Web
The inaccessible web is vast and growing by leaps and bounds every day. There are millions of small business websites built using templates sold by web.com and other such providers that are not accessible from the outset. Such template providers seldom if ever make their clients aware that they are stepping into potential legal jeopardy by using their template product.
Many companies and government entities have with good intentions spent millions providing accessibility on their website. Some web developers charge a great deal and some not so much. What is important is the certification of those doing the work and the real user testing that is done before the site goes live.
Once the site is live and being used then the real test begins. This is because many website owners do not put accessibility protocols in place to keep the site accessible. So, with the uploading of every new non-captioned picture, graphic or non-remediated PDF the site becomes less and less accessible. Putting in place such protocols is not rocket science. Providing properly remediated PDF documents that provide the information correctly is not a stretch either if done by a company who understands the needs of the screen reader user.
After expending funds to make their website accessible many organizations believe that is the end of the work. Without requiring staff and website managers to follow accessibility protocols the website becomes contaminated over time with inaccessible elements. Think of an accessible website like a tank of pure water. Over time drops of sewer water are added contaminating it from the first drop.
Scanned PDF documents which are essentially a picture of a document and unintelligible to a screen reader are where many websites begin leaving the path of accessibility. PDF’s created as such can be read by many screen readers, but those PDF’s that have not been remediated or edited to be read by a screen reader are often just as unintelligible.
Website accessibility at the local county and municipal level is not a matter of course, but rather depends on the efforts of local advocates to bring it about often. There are thousands of local jurisdictions across America. We hope, but question whether the majority have accessible websites. Out of all of them, the suspicion is that a very few put effort into assuring that the PDF documents on their website are remediated and accessible.
It is truly concerning to see this kind of lack of accessibility at the local government level because much of the governing that touches each of us is found and debated on those inaccessible websites and in those PDF documents.
The same issue can be raised in the nonprofit community. Even among those that serve and support people with disabilities. Yes, cost is an issue for nonprofits, but it is not out of the realm of imagination for them to find willing partners in the accessible website and PDF remediation industry in exchange for support of local government and business using those same services to provide accessibility. The Access Ready Environments initiative is making efforts to bring such partnerships about.
Inaccessible websites and documents violates a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, which is transparency. We as Americans have the right and prerogative to know and understand what is going on in our government. If government had begun requiring accessibility in the construction of websites and the implementation of accessibility protocols after the passage of the ADA this would not be the issue it is.
In the commercial space the lack of accessibility is staggering. It is almost as if many companies do not want a part of the 240 billion dollars of disposable income annually available to people with disabilities. This is a mystery given the transportation issues that face the disability community making shopping online a natural solution.
Inaccessibility on nonprofit websites and in their documentation is truly counterproductive since many of these organizations are in the business of providing various kinds of help to the very people with disabilities that may not have access. Non-profits also often seek funding and may also be ignoring the billions of dollars available in the disability community. Why would commercial and nonprofit entities ignore this source of revenue? Could it be because they are under the misperception that if you have a disability you are also pore by default.
The inaccessible web and its accompanying documentation is only serving to deepen the digital divide and many who would most benefit from access. The world wide web is where governance, commerce and social services are moving to and will be expanding to throughout the foreseeable future. Government, business and the nonprofit sectors must step up to meet the accessibility requirements of a growing disability community.
People with disabilities and a growing public of mature citizens with similar needs are fortunate that the industry which provides support for accessible website design and ongoing PDF document accessibility services is growing. Common Look a North American based company for example has entered the market with a team of professionals able to provide truly accessible PDF documentation at a reasonable cost.
Common Look is supporting nonprofits in some cases by furnishing services to support events both large and small. It is companies like Common Look who have first come to understand the needs of the user with a disability and then built a system to meet that need while providing a cost-effective solution to the buyer. In our search for technologies that provide a solution to a public policy requirement Disability Relations Group is pleased to identify Common Look as an Access Ready Environment provider.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.