In the words of policy specialist Paul T. Jaeger,
“Through direct communication, through the creation of online profiles, and through social media, the Internet offers many opportunities for persons with disabilities to paint a realistic portrait of disability that is not otherwise available. … The ability to present realistic identities online also feeds directly into the power of the Internet as an organizing tool for persons with disabilities” (149-150).Unfortunately, website function and design imposes barriers to access, which stakeholders are attempting to address. According to Jaeger, the Internet is “inherently unfriendly to many different kinds of disabilities” (2).
Of potential implication for distance education is a complaint filed by the Alliance for Disability and Students at the University of Montana (Szpaller), alleging inaccessible class assignments, materials, live chat and design board functions on its learning management system. The system in question, Moodle, is also used for online courses at Cuesta College.
Recent publications, both online and print, address efforts to eliminate barriers to participation among people with disabilities.
Through character sketches, Mark Pilgrim explains ways that web design can impact people with disabilities, including ways that adaptive technology reacts to web design elements. The people in the sketches “all have a combination of physical, mental, and technological disabilities which make it more difficult to use the Internet.
“Although fictitious, they all represent real people with disabilities, and they use the Internet in ways that real people with disabilities use the Internet” (Pilgrim).
Themes addressed in recent literature include cost versus benefit.
At Usability.gov, the web page “Accessibility” makes a case for the value of accessibility:
“By making your website accessible, you are ensuring that all of your potential users, including people with disabilities, have a decent user experience and are able to easily access your information. By implementing accessibility best practices, you are also improving the usability of the site for all users.”A growing number of lawsuits address web accessibility. According to Marty Orlick, a partner with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell in San Francisco, about 16,000 ADA lawsuits were filed nationally since 2000 (Witsil). “Only a handful of those are directly related to websites, but legal questions and cases in this area are likely to increase, he said.”
Frank Witsil, web editor for the Detroit Free Press, highlights the conflict between a moral consideration, that there is a “right” thing to do, and consideration of cost. He quotes attorney John Torres stating that each additional feature adds to a website’s “bottom line.”
In contrast, “Groups representing people with disabilities say cost should not be an excuse. Online accessibility, they say, is the right thing for companies to do” (Witsil).
For web developers who accept the view that accessibility is the “right” thing to do, a variety of websites offer information about strategies they can take.
- Dive Into Accessibility offers a collection of tips to make websites more accessible, groupable by the person who benefits, disability, design principle, web browser or publishing tool.
- On the companion Web site to her book, Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, Jessamyn West offers curated links to several websites that address web accessibility.
- And “Getting Started with Web Accessibility” is a curated set of links to other pages published by W3C. Topics for web users include customizing your computer for a better browsing experience and contacting organizations about inaccessible websites.
Taken together, these publications present a very timely discussion.
The subject is of vital importance in a library career, given the increasingly digitized nature of library collections. In the same way that public computers help to mitigate the “digital divide,” eliminating flaws in website design ensures greater participation among people in our digitized society.
- “Accessibility.” Usability.gov: What & Why of Usability. Web. 14 July 2013.
- Jaeger, Paul T. Disability and the Internet: Confronting a Digital Divide. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011. Print.
- Pilgrim, Mark. Dive Into Accessibility: 30 days to a more accessible web site. 2004. Web. 1 July 2013.
- Szpaller, Keila. “Disabled UM students file complaint over inaccessible online course components.” Billings Gazette, 18 Sept. 2012. NewsBank. Cuesta College Library. Web. 9 July 2013.
- West, Jessamyn. Without a Net. Web. 1 July 2013.
- Witsil, Frank. “Access to websites for people with disabilities: a new civil rights frontier.” USA Today, 5 July, 2013. NewsBank. Cuesta College Library. Web. 9 July 2013
- W3C. “Getting Started with Web Accessibility.” Web Accessibility Initiative. March 2011. Web. 4 July 2013.