As access to the Internet has become more critical – in work, in leisure activities, in accessing government services, and in matters of health – it is imperative that online access and mobile apps are made broadly equitable and inclusive for everyone, including people with disabilities. Today, many websites, mobile apps, and other Internet services limit the access of millions of users with disabilities, including those who use screen reader tools, need magnified text, cannot use normal keyboard input devices, cannot hear the audio content associated with online videos, or have other disabilities.
Designing for accessibility brings benefits well beyond better support for people with disabilities. A commitment to making the Internet more accessible will pay dividends in evolving technologies that can be more easily accessed – and more easily understood – by everyone. These advances will result in improved and expanded access to important information, and broader participation in commercial and educational activities by all citizens.
In the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act mandates that U.S. federal department and agency webites be accessible to users with certain disabilities. The information technology and disability communities have developed accessibility standards and tools that federal agencies use to comply with those requirements, and which do not cause undue burden on the development and enhancement of covered websites. However, Section 508 does not cover commercial or private websites, and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities – does not mention the Internet.
We make the following list of recommendations to address accessibility concerns in digital environments. We additionally recommend that a combination of incentives and requirements be designed and considered to accomplish these goals expeditiously.
Increase Awareness. The federal government should undertake a range of activities, including public-private partnerships, to increase awareness of the value of building accessibility into systems. These efforts should include building awareness of these issues internationally, as well as domestically.
Develop Tools. Resources (such as software tools and guidelines) already exist to help make commercial websites more accessible. The information technology community should continue to develop additional low-cost web-development tools and promote their adoption. Further, the federal government should continue to promote and fund research and development of more accessible information technology systems.
Extend Accessibility Standards While Minimizing Regulatory Burden. Free participation and innovation by individuals and organizations contributing to the Internet and to its growth are important. Minimal regulation has helped foster the development and spread of Internet technologies. We recommend that requirements be crafted that balance the values of accessible participation and innovation, and that those requirements are extended to public, commercial websites and mobile apps. In addition, we recommend that well-known and well-vetted standards be used as the starting point for enhancing and extending accessibility requirements for all people to websites and mobile apps.
The ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee and the members of ACM's Special Interest Groups on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS), on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), and on Hypertext, Hypermedia and the Web (SIGWEB), have been actively involved in advancing policy, practices, and research in usability, accessibility, and accessible technologies.