The practice of ensuring that websites are made accessible to all people having all abilities as well as those having disabilities is what is known as Web Accessibility. The emphasis however is more often than not, on people with disabilities. Equality in the acquisition of the information or knowledge contained on a web page irrespective of the age and physical conditions such as blindness is the thrust of this practice. The concept of web accessibility is founded on the need to address certain challenges generally facing web users as well as some facing some categories of web users. Some of these challenges include the following:
i. Visual Impairments: This includes the different kinds of visual problems which people face such as low vision, color blindness, poor eyesight and blindness.
ii. Mobility: Conditions which make it hard for those afflicted to make full use of their limbs such as Parkinson’s disease, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke and Muscular Dystrophy also impede the ability to make use of web.
iii. Auditory: This includes those impairments which affect the hearing such as those hard of hearing or deaf.
iv. Seizures: Certain seizures which are a result of some lighting effects such as strobe lights.
v. Cognitive: These refer to disabilities which arise in the developmental stages of an individual such as dyslexia as well as those of a cognitive nature.
The clamor for improvement in the accessibility of the web is a result of the explosion in the volume of information found on the internet and the need to remove the barriers to full accessibility of that information. Today, employment, education, healthcare and government related records are available on the internet and people with disability are obviously disadvantaged in making use of these facilities.
The concept of web accessibility has been codified in form of legislation in certain jurisdictions. These legislation are aimed at the protecting the interests of people who have disabilities in their use of the various facets of communications as well providing general safeguards against discrimination for these special groups of people. Some countries that have taken this initiative include the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland.
Web accessibility has clear parameters as have been established over time. It is comprised of seven components based on the features which combine to provide a user friendly environment for people with disabilities. These components include:
a. Text, Images and Sound which form the content of websites and are required to be natural information.
b. Media Players for audio and video files as well as browsers for viewing the web pages.
c. Assisted technologies
d. The knowledge and experience that users have while using the web
f. Evaluation tools
g. Authoring tools
One other major objective or advantage of web accessibility is that it serves to put the control of the web page usage into the hands of the users themselves. This is via the embedding of certain features which allow them to make alterations to the appearance of the page. This includes allowing the users to re-size the page text and alerting users if the page will show in a new window.