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By: Chas Barrie, Accessibility Advocate
Date: 04/08/20

Can You Access Me Now?

Watching and listening to the news at this time is not what one would call warm and fuzzy. By and large, newscasters, as they should be, are consumed with information pertaining to Covid-19.

We are continuously being informed that for further information we should consult this website or that website. I have not heard anything that tells me Covid-19 discriminates. To the best of my knowledge, this pandemic makes no distinction whether a person has a disability or not, it strikes universally. How much of this information on the web is accessible and how many people even know what web accessibility is all about?

During this global crisis the information pertaining to this situation must be available to all. The information should be timely, accurate and accessible. Technology is of critical importance today and particularly the internet. What better way to get your message out to the world’s diverse population than by using the internet?


As detailed on the EPA website: “Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. § 794d), as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-220) requires federal agencies to develop, procure, maintain and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities – regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government. The US Access Board established the Section 508 standards that implement the law and provides the requirements for accessibility.” The important concept behind this rule is to make technologies such as online training and informational web sites available to everyone.


There are a number of people who believe there is no other invention that has had a greater effect on the world than that of the internet. It may be considered a greater innovation than Gutenberg’s printing press back in the 1400’s.

One of my favorite websites, WebAim, states: “The Web Offers Unprecedented Opportunities, the internet is one of the best things that ever happened to people with disabilities.”

Long before the internet, the Sunday newspaper was just printed words on paper. How would people who are blind be able to read this? They couldn’t. There were Audiotapes or Braille versions, but they were expensive and the New York Times was too bulky too handle. They had to rely on other people to read the paper to them. This method worked, but made people who were blind dependent on others.

Today, most newspapers can be found on line and the sites have been written in a format that has the ability to be read by someone who has visual difficulties by using a screen reader software program. These programs are a far cry from the massive print versions or waiting for audio tapes. Now the user can simply use a web browser and listen to the screen reader with no time delay.

People struggling with mobility, unable to pick up a paper or turn pages can now read the paper, with the use of adaptive technologies. Once again, it is a matter of browsing the internet.

Laws and standards

In 1973 the United States adopted the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504 and Section 508) as well as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act concern themselves with accessible websites.

  • Section 504 was meant to ensure that the people with disabilities living in the U.S. would not be discriminated against because of their disability.
  • Section 508 requires that the federal government procure, create, use and maintain ICT that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government.

There have also been many nations that have passed international laws addressing accessibility. Additionally, the U.N. General Assembly has designated the Department of Global Communications as the focal point for web accessibility in the United Nations. This site is part of DGC’s effort to fulfil its mandate and promote web accessibility in the UN system.

According to the U.S. Justice Dept. “More than 50 million Americans – 18% of our population – have disabilities, and each is a potential customer. People with disabilities are living more independently and participating more actively in their communities. They and their families want to patronize businesses that welcome customers with disabilities. In addition, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 by the year 2030 and will be demanding products, services, and environments that meet their age-related physical needs. Studies show that once people with disabilities find a business where they can shop or get services in an accessible manner they become repeat customers.”

So despite the great potential the web offers for people with disabilities, because of lack of accessibility, this potential is still today unrealized.


For website designers, focusing on the layout, content and optimization of the site is critical, but if you truly wish to maximize the number of visitors to the site it is just as critical for the designer to put themselves in the shoes of someone with a disability and ask themselves if they could access this information.

WebAim has placed the vast variety of disabilities into 5 general categories.

  • Visual: Blindness, low vision, color-blindness.
  • Hearing: Deafness and hard-of-hearing.
  • Motor: Inability to use a mouse, slow response time, limited fine motor control.
  • Cognitive: Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information.

As WebAim points out: “Each of the major categories of disabilities requires certain types of adaptations in the design of web content. Most of the time, these adaptations benefit nearly everyone, not just people with disabilities.


There are international guidelines set up to assist with creating accessible websites (The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)). They were developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). see links below for more information:

WCAG checklist https://www.wuhcag.com/wcag-checklist/

Worldwide Web Consortium (also provide testing) https://www.w3.org/

WebAim (information, training and testing)https://webaim.org/intro/

Final Comments and Observation

For web designers, here are just a few observations and recommendations I wish to bring to your attention:

  • For many seniors, they have had little or no experience with not only the web, but technologies. Web designers and IT people know or have learned lots of exciting tricks and gimmicks to use. For seniors this is new and in many cases scary; keep it simple if you want to get information out. Functionality and simplicity is the name of the game. Is your site understandable to everyone?
  • Not everyone loves or uses Google. Remember to check on how your site appears on multiple search engines and be sure all your work shows up correctly.
  • Technologies today go far beyond an old desktop computer. Cell phones tablets and an assortment of other devices are now capable of connecting. Be sure your site will adjust to this variety of screen sizes.
  • As well as multiple devices there are also multiple social media that can be linked together. Although most social media services try their best to be compliant, there are gaps. Care should be used to avoid having important information or the essence of your message to be lost.
  • Finally, for designers, there are three very important rules:
    • Test
    • Test
    • And if you think you have it right—Test the site again! (there are plenty of testing tools on the internet)

Bottom-line, accessibility is not only the law, IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

For additional information visit:

ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments  https://www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap5toolkit.htm

Getting Help with Accessibility


Introduction to Web Accessibility


U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section: Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities


Section 508.gov, GSA Government-wide Accessibility Program


EPA. (2019). What is Section 508


WebAim, Web Accessibility in Mind


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