At the heart of inclusive design is the understanding that people with a disability have many of the same needs as everyone else, including wanting to use the internet for research and learning.
Web accessibility has come a long way. About ten years ago, when we first started building web accessible websites, some colleagues would say, 'But why do we go to so much trouble to make our sites web accessible for a small minority?' That's a short-sighted approach.
Vision Australia estimates there are currently 357,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision. They project that these numbers will grow to 564,000 by 2030. These are not insignificant numbers of future web users.
In addition to blind and visually impaired users, over four million people in Australia have some form of disability, which includes neurological disorders (e.g. multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or epilepsy) and musculoskeletal disorders (e.g. arthritis or spinal injuries). As responsible web publishers, we need to ensure that our documents and websites also meet their needs: creating web accessible content for everyone makes good sense for so many reasons.
Closer to home, I can think of a good reason to build web accessible websites: my husband suffers a mild form of colour blindness. It's quite surprising the number of people who are affected by colour blindness. In Australia, about 8% of males and 0.4% of females suffer colour blindness to some degree. So here's my example of why we should build web accessible websites.
We like to go to the movies on a Saturday night. To secure our seats, we like to book online. I'm the one who has to do the online booking because my husband won't. Why not? He can't distinguish between the reserved seats and the free seats because the colours on the seating image don't have the necessary colour contrast: to him they all look the same murky shade of brown.
Which means I have to make the booking using my credit card. Which means we're both annoyed and generally shun that movie chain for another. So doesn't it make good business sense to implement web standards - and keep your clients?
Web accessibility rules and regulations
In Australia we have a good record of government organisations doing the right thing. The movement to implement WCAG 2.0 compliant websites, driven by the government sector, has raised the level of awareness amongst government publishers. Significant work has been done - and continues to be done - to ensure government websites are accessible to all users. But in the private sector we still have a long way to go to reduce or eliminate the problems. Currently, 39% of complaints lodged with the Australian Human Rights Commission are against businesses and related to disability. While many of those complaints are undoubtedly against physical constraints, I'm sure we can do better to eliminate the online restrictions.
Working web accessible content
Advancements in authoring and publishing tools means web accessibility can often be baked into the product. As a writer or an editor, you can compose your text knowing that the publication has a structured hierarchy of headings, an easy to use alt text capability for all image objects, and a simple table insert with headers built into the option. For any web publisher who's cursed at having to clean up incorrectly structured documents, that should be music to their ears - and ultimately provide a web feast for all.