For many people the term ‘web accessibility’ relates almost exclusively to blind people who use the internet and online services. While some of the tools, such as screen readers, that are used by visually impaired individuals to surf the web represent some of the more well known examples of web accessibility software in practice, they are far from being reflective of the whole story.
In other words, web accessibility is not something tethered to one particular type of disability or impairment, but rather is a vital subset of User Experience (UX) that aims to open up websites to the broadest range of people possible. Obviously, this range of people includes those with disabilities, and not just visual ones.
In reality, the types of impairments faced by those using the internet are as varied as the websites they visit. And, in fact, many of these impairments are temporary in nature and can impact any one of us at any given time.
Web Accessibility Isn’t Just for the Blind
Web accessibility is a rich and varied subject that encompasses a wide variety of needs and considerations. To reduce this rich and multifaceted area to being something that caters only to the visually impaired is not only untrue, but also hazardous to the advancement of the cultural conversation around accessibility and what it truly means.
To be clear - the misconception of web accessibility only being an issue for blind people comes from a good place, and it is certainly positive that people are awake to the difficulties presented to those with visual impairments online.
But for the conversation to develop and move forward in a meaningful way, it is vitally important that organizations operating online understand that web accessibility is about far more than making websites friendly to those with blindness and other visual impairments.
A Glimpse of the Full Web Accessibility Spectrum
Let’s take a look at some of the more notable non-visual disability types that have a huge impact on the area of web accessibility:
- Motor Impairments
Motor impairment refers to the partial or total loss of a function of a body part, usually a limb or limbs. Users with motor impairments will commonly rely on tools such as alternative keyboards and mouth sticks to navigate online.
- Hearing Impairments / Deafness
Hearing impairments can be mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe or profound, and can affect both ears. People who suffer from hearing impairments will often be reliant on tools such as braille displays to use the web.
- Cognitive Impairments
Those with certain cognitive impairments will often find navigating a traditional website to be difficult or even impossible. For this reason, it is important to encourage inclusive practices that remove barriers to those who process information differently.
While the disability types listed above are far from being comprehensive, it should serve to give you an idea of just how much more than visual impairment issues go into web accessibility.
Expanding Your Accessibility Horizons Benefits EVERYONE
The particular association that people continue to make between web accessibility and visual impairments is really only natural, as it is such an easily recognized impairment that people can immediately understand and relate to - but the simple fact is that good web accessibility practices benefit all users, irrespective of their physical or mental states.
And, while it may not be realistic to expect the general perception of web accessibility to transform and flourish overnight, it is important for organizations to recognize that it is a complex and multi-faceted area that touches upon all aspects of human behavior online.