A New Facet: Accessibility on the Internet

Share with your network

The Internet is tangled with almost every aspect of daily life, from online learning to accessing banking information to communicating with coworkers. It has become a means for finding general information like bus routes, restaurant menus, and local government contact information. Our general reliance on websites to convey this information can prove problematic when the sites in question are not accessible. Accessibility must address a number of facets. Disabilities that may limit web accessibility include visual, cognitive, and hearing impairments, as well as learning disabilities and mobility restrictions.

What makes a website accessible? The Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web (WAI), the main international standards organization for web accessibility, provides a set of guidelines on their website. The recommendations are known under the acronym “WCAG”. Things that the WCAG 2.1 guidebook highlight include the use of color and contrast, having text descriptions of images, independent volume control on videos, and the use of sign language interpreters or subtitles in videos. W3C also has informational pages – like the “before and after” demonstration page, which highlights changes that make a webpage more accessible. W3C’s WAI leverages their platform to demonstrate the fundamental connections between websites and accessibility; developers, designers, and others must “understand the principles for creating accessible websites, web applications, browsers, and other web tools” to create systems that are helpful for all.

Similarly, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 aims to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by local and state government entities. This is in addition to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508, which “requires that Federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public” and received updates in 2017. The most notable of these revisions was the harmonization of requirements in Section 508 and the 1934 Section 255 guidelines with the international standards, such as those outlined by WAI. Previously, technology-neutral standards for web content were simply recommendations – despite being globally recognized and often more detailed than Section 508.  The ADA website provides a toolkit to encourage Accessibility compliance – one that also can be used for civilian websites. They cite examples of inequity that the general public may not think of – such as access to tax forms – emphasizing: “if posted on an accessible website, tax forms need to be available to people with disabilities in an accessible format on the same terms that they are available to other members of the public – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without cost, inconvenience, or delay.”

The first step to creating accessible web spaces is to identify common problems and their solutions. For example, not specifying color and font settings during website design allows low-vision users to adjust the site to their needs, posting documents in an accessible (HTML or RTF) format makes it easier for individuals to use screen readers, and minimizing blinking or flashing features reduces distraction. Presenting information in an accessible manner requires approaching the presentation with a multi-sensory and multi-interactivity perspective. Doing so allows “for additional means of site navigation and interactivity beyond the typical point-and-click-interface: keyboard-based control and voice-based navigation (…) [for] disabled users to access the same information as nondisabled users.” Further considerations include making the entire website accessible for those who only use a keyboard with no mouse, providing transcripts for audio-based information like podcasts, and having a clear heading hierarchy. If this seems overwhelming, you’re not alone – there are a plethora of resources available for website developers, including website compliance checkers. Once a website is compliant, creating a protocol for the naming of files and the presentation of media as well as general website maintenance will help sustain accessibility.

Beyond websites, there are a number of tools that people with disabilities can leverage to make the Internet more accessible. These include voice controls, hands-free mouse tracking (for example: using a camera that tracks face or head movement and translates them into commands), braille keyboards, and screen readers. Smartphones can also be used to make the world more accessible in less obvious ways. For example, one can take photos of things like menus or small print and then zoom in to read or use a voice recorder like Siri or Bixby to take notes and set reminders. Some other accessibility tools are now commonly included in smartphone settings while others remain expensive and financially inaccessible. Further, misuse or poor implementation of technology can actually make the internet less accessible. For example: ARIA, or “Accessible Rich Internet Applications”, are a set of attributes aimed at improving the accessibility of applications and web content. It has “shown how widgets, controls and HTML can be extended to provide a more accessible experience on a webpage or app.” Unfortunately, poor implementation of ARIA has made sites laggy and less accessible. The solution to this problem lies in improved awareness in the general public and more extensive testing.

The nature of eAccessibility is ever evolving. As the Internet changes and technology expands, the standards and guidelines will follow suit. The keys to progress include remembering to maintain accessibility standards through updates, and periodically implementing the feedback of disability groups, as well as remembering that websites should not be the only option to provide services or information. Some individuals may not have, or be able to use, a computer and need to get services or information elsewhere.


  • https://www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap5toolkit.htm
  • https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/#audio-control
  • https://www.softwaretestinghelp.com/accessibility-testing-tools/
  • https://monsido.com/blog/tools-web-accessibility-for-disability
  • https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/accessibility.html
  • https://usabilitygeek.com/bad-vs-good-accessible-designs/
  • https://www.ada.gov/508/https://www.access-board.gov/ict/
  • https://www.scope.org.uk/advice-and-support/phone-accessibility-features-for-mobile-android-iphone/#:~:text=Go%20to%20the%20accessibility%20section,features%20on%20and%20off%20individually.
  • https://www.w3.org/WAI/demos/bad/