The Inaccessible Web is Improving

The inaccessible web is vast and growing by leaps and bounds every day, but it is getting better. Yes, there are still millions of small business and government websites built using templates, however, the providers of such templates are feeling the demand for accessibility from customers. This is because the work of many advocates across the world wide web is being felt and responded to.

Many companies and government entities having 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.

Finding those that are truly qualified is not as easy as it sounds, but even that situation is improving as developers come to grips with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and online document requirements. The tools to do such work are getting better as well which is also reducing the price of such things as document remediation.

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. This too is changing as managers begin to change the culture where accessibility online and through information technology is concerned.

We have all learned together that with the uploading of every new non-captioned picture, graphic or non-remediated PDF the site can become less and less accessible. Putting in place such protocols is a cultural change from the way things were done to how they need to be done now. It is not unlike the change from the sharp curb to sloped curb cuts which are now a matter of course.  After expending funds to make their website accessible many organizations have realized that changing the culture and attitude toward accessibility is the next vital step in the ongoing process.                 

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. We see more and more businesses, governments and nonprofits putting serious effort into training and processes that create accessibility.              

Website accessibility at the local county and municipal level are becoming a matter of course, thanks to the efforts of local advocates and organizations like Access Ready who bring the issue to the attention of officials. There are thousands of local jurisdictions across America who are now working every day to improve accessibility.  There are also attorneys plowing through the countryside filing legal actions with little if any prior notice who are mostly interested in collecting their fee and moving on. Access Ready has no objection to legal action where it is necessary, but we have seen cases where once the legal fees are paid, small business, government and nonprofits have little money left to make the changes necessary.

It is truly concerning to see this kind of legal activity slowing 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. In Access Ready’s discussions, we have found general willingness in a large portion of the market without the need to threaten or take legal action. It is why we have a policy against taking legal action. We are here to educate, advocate and help.

The same issues can be raised in the nonprofit community. Inaccessibility on nonprofit websites and in their documentation can be truly counterproductive. Many of these organizations are in the business of providing services to the very people with disabilities that may not have access. Many non-profit teams are working hard to resolve online accessibility issues. Yes, the cost is an issue for nonprofits, but we have seen industry professionals donate services to non-profits to assist with accessibility issues. Access Ready is making efforts to bring such partnerships about. It is also launching fundraising programs so that we will be able to assist local nonprofits with their accessibility needs.

Inaccessible websites and documents violate 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. Across America, we are seeing the shift in attitudes to a culture of accessibility.

In the commercial space, many companies are recognizing the need and queuing up to provide goods and services to eighty-two million Americans with disabilities. Yes, there are some still fighting the cultural shift, but it is a wave that will lift all boats as they say. Many companies have recognized and want a part of the 240 billion dollars of disposable income annually available to people with disabilities. This is a ready market given the transportation issues that face the disability community making shopping online a natural solution.

The inaccessible web and its accompanying documentation are only serving to deepen the digital divide and many who would most benefit from access. This reality is being recognized in many places. There is still much work to be done, but working together we advocates are making a start in partnership with business, government and the nonprofit sectors. The world wide web is where governance, commerce, and social services are moving to and will be expanding throughout the foreseeable future. Government, business and the nonprofit sectors must and in many places are stepping 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 and working hard to make providing accessibility easier, less costly and more understandable.

As people with disabilities, we should all take a step back and remember that no one is born with an understanding of accessibility. Especially in a time when technological development keeps moving the goal post.