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Selfish Reasons for Accessible Web Authoring

By Kynn Bartlett 



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In his 26 April 1999 column on the AWARE Center, CNET builder.com's "Master Builder" Dan Shafer wrote:

As I've pointed out, there are strong, selfish advantages to be gained by making your site accessible; but, not all of your efforts apply only to those who visit your site and who happen to have a disability.

This led to a discussion on the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative interest group mailing list, in which Bruce Bailey challenged us to list as many "selfish" reasons to produce an accessible web site. Never one to turn down a tossed gauntlet, this page is presented as a list of purely greedy, self-serving, un-altruistic motives for making your page widely accessible.

SELFISH REASON #1: Search Engines

Search engines primarily index based on TEXT. That means your images and other multimedia will NOT factor into your search engine placement UNLESS you have text equivalents!

Some search engines also use the structure of your document to determine the placement -- part of making an accessible site is making it well-structured, and good structure can influence your search engine hits, because it's that much easier for an automated program to process.

SELFISH REASON #2: Avoiding Expensive Lawsuits

In some parts of the world (such as the US) for some people (such as local, state, and federal governments), website accessibility isn't just a good idea, it's the LAW. If your agency's website is not accessible to the handicapped, you could be facing an ADA complaint or other lawsuit! (Granted, this is a selfish argument for inaccessible websites if you happen to be a greedy lawyer!) [Note: I like lawyers, the preceding is a joke.]

SELFISH REASON #3: Rich Folks With Expensive Toys

The people who can afford to buy the latest nifty Internet gadgets, such as Pilot/Windows CE PDAs, web-enabled pagers and cell phones, and AutoPCs are also the same people who may be spending a lot of money online. If you are running an e-commerce site, these rich folks with too much money to spend on tech toys may be key customers who you can't afford to alienate!

SELFISH REASON #4: The Buying Power of People with Disabilities

Along a similar line as the preceding, you may be missing out on business if other folks can't get to your site. Here's a nice quote about how much potential income from people with disabilities you may be passing up on:

"Consumers with disabilities control more than $175 billion in discretionary income. They, like all consumers, are more likely to patronize businesses where they feel welcome. Accessible stores, products and services, along with employees with disabilities, will help customers with disabilities feel that their business is appreciated." [source]

I'd like $175 billion, wouldn't you?

SELFISH REASON #5: Would You Like Fries With That Inaccessible Web Page?

You can get a better job if you understand accessible web design. Really.

Learning the principles of accessible web authoring will teach you so much more about the web than you've known before. I know this from experience, and from talking to the students who have completed my online course in accessible web design. You'll understand what HTML really does, how it works, how it doesn't work, and how best to use it to create cross-platform, interoperable web applications that can be used by everyone.

So you'll be a better web author. And being "better" means more money, and higher paying jobs, because you know your stuff. Wouldn't any true "professional" want to improve her skills? Any trained web monkey can make an inaccessible page -- how many know how to make a web site correctly?

SELFISH REASON #6: What Will The Web Be Like When I'm 65?

Internet we build now will survive, in form or in spirit, for the foreseeable future. As the currently youngish body of web authors ages, we too will fall victim to the ravages of age -- including decreased vision, hearing, mobility, and cognition. Therefore, the foundations of accessible web authoring practices you lay down today could be the key to your own continued access in 10, 20, 30, or 40 years.

We are currently building a new economy, a new government, a new society that is based around the Internet. How ironic it would be if the foundation stones don't include accessibility, and then when we need it in our old age -- we can't? The access you ensure today may be your own, tomorrow!

SELFISH REASON #7: Nobody Plans to be Disabled

Anyone of us could become disabled at any time. Some disabilities are "since birth", but many are the result of unplanned circumstances. Web authors are particularly susceptible to loss of ability to type or use a mouse due to RSI, but really, anyone could be in a car accident tomorrow. Would you want to find yourself not only disabled but also unable to use the Internet?

For this reason, it makes perfect sense -- self-preservation -- to make sure that the web is usable by all. YOU could be one of "the disabled" next week!

More Selfish Reasons

Did I miss any? Feel free to send me your own selfish reasons! Warning: All altruistic motives will be discarded, this page is only for the most greedy, petty of justifications!

This essay copyright 1999 by Kynn Bartlett <kynn@idyllmtn.com> and is reprinted here with permission.



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