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You'd be able to hook up to the network through your computer, interactive TV, telephone, or some future device that somehow combines the attributes of all three. Even wireless gadgets such as pagers, future versions of cellular phones, and newfangled "personal digital assistants" would be able to tap into the highway. The purpose: to provide remote electronic banking, schooling, shopping, taxpaying, chatting, game playing, videoconferencing, movie ordering, medical diagnosing... The list goes on (Antonoff, Fisher, Langreth, and O'Malley 98).
Achieving this vision, however, means addressing the issue of accessibility so that everyone will have access to this superhighway.
In its broadest sense, web accessibility refers to more than the ability to connect to the Internet and includes the idea that websites should be, and often are not, designed so as to "facilitate access to the information on the site by people with disabilities" (Darsie 1) and others who need to access data and may find it difficult unless the site is designed to help rather than hinder in the search. From the point-of-view of the web designer, web accessibility is "the ability to produce Web sites that are easily accessible by as broad an audience as possible" (Focazio 1).
Need for Accessibility
There are a number of reasons why Internet accessibility is an important issue. The issue is first of all one of fairness and equity, given that those who are prevented from accessing Internet services and sites are at a disadvantage in many ways, meaning an educational disadvantage if they are students, a business disadvantage in the working world, and an information disadvantage in all walks of life when others can access information that they cannot. The issue is vital for business because they may be preventing some of their customers from accessing their sites and taking advantage of their offerings, and business people should recognize that "it is in our best interest to serve all segments of our audience" (Darsie 1). There are also legal requirements for Internet access for certain protected groups. Darsie cites a number of California regulations forcing the University of California and similar institutions to provide Internet access for all under Sections 504  and 508  of the Rehabilitation Act, Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended; 42 USC 12101; California Code of Regulations, Title 2, Title 22; California Government Code, Sections 11135, et seq.; and other federal and state laws (Darsie 1).
Among the reasons given for improving web accessability are the following:
To comply with regulatory and legal requirements
To gain exposure to more people, including people with disabilities and seniors
To gain exposure to more situations, such as new places and new devices
For better design and implementation
To achieve cost savings
To enhance the reputation
As a matter of enlightened self-interest
The problem is worse for those with disabilities and can be doubly worse for disabled people who are also in poverty, for as LaPlante, Carlson, Kaye and Bradsher note,
Across the board, the poverty rate increases substantially when a householder has a disability and even more so when both householders (in partnered families) have disabilities (p. 3).
The issue is not merely a U.S. issue, and in the developing global economy, accessibility on the international scene is even more vital. The legal situation has been stated clearly in the U.S., but many of the rules set up on the international scene are less clear or are outdated, as Sara-Serrano notes when she states,
More broadly, many of the international norms and standards relating to disability were adopted before the technological marvel that is the Internet was fully available. Most web sites are still not accessible and most persons with disabilities do not have access to those that are (Sara-Serrano).
She also notes that the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities under Paragraph 10 of Rule 5 on Accessibility states,
States should ensure that new computerized information and service systems offered to the general public are either made initially accessible or are adapted to be made accessible to persons with disabilities (Sara-Serrano).
In the U.S., the legal framework is found in several laws, beginning with Section 508 requiring that the electronic and information technology of Federal agencies is accessible to people with disabilities. This law is overseen by the Center for Information Technology Accommodation (CITA), which is in the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy. This agency is charged with educating Federal employees and with building the needed infrastructure to support implementation of this law (ASection 508").
Part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is Section 255, which requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment to make certain that the equipment is designed, developed, and produced so as to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. The Act requires that manufacturers make certain their equipment is compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialize customer premises equipment commonly used by those with disabilities to achieve access ("Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines").
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have been offered to help make Web content accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines are intended to help Web content developers and can be used to make Web content more available to all users. These guidelines are published by the Web Accessibility Initiative. The guidelines suggest ways of organizing material and of developing websites that can be accessed and read with a minimum of fuss (AWeb Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0").
Another applicable legal regime can be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibit discrimination against people with mental or physical impairments. The employment rules apply to companies with 25 or more employees at the present time, and within two years to companies with 15 to 24 employees. Companies with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the job-bias rules (McGee). The Americans with Disabilities Act implemented in 1992 provides that companies must make their facilities accessible to the estimated 43 million people in the U.S. with disabilities. The Act also offers provisions designed to prevent discrimination in hiring, promotion, or any other aspect of employment for companies with 25 or more employees. The effect has been to frighten many employers who do not understand elements of the Act or who fear it will make them spend money or otherwise be less competitive. There are things the employer now cannot ask a prospective employee about whether he or she has ever had a physical or mental disability. The employers will have to put in ramps or curb cuts to provide access to their buildings and remodel restroom facilities. They can no longer assume that someone with a physical handicap cannot perform a job simply because it appears that he or she cannot, and they will have to provide devices for some handicapped people who need them, such as telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDDs) that enable the hearing impaired, through a teletypewriter, to communicate with others (Verespej 14-15).
Similarly, the Disabilities Discrimination Act of 1995 addresses the special needs of workers and others for Internet access, on the following basis:
Disability can lead to several problems when accessing the Internet. Aside from visual impairments, hearing, dyslexia and motor problems can also cause a person to encounter difficulties when using a computer. These problems can usually be overcome via the use of assistive technologies. For instance, a visually impaired person can use a text-based browser such as Lynx and a screen reader to 'speak' the text that appears on the screen or a Braille display to feel the words. On the other hand, captioning of video and audio clips can allow a user to read what is being said, in much the same way as subtitles on television. It is also possible for someone who suffers from motor problems to use the keyboard or special input device to navigate his way around the screen without having to use a mouse (Sloan).
Web accessibility is an issue that applies to everyone, and achieving accessibility is a benefit for everyone. It benefits users who are able to access the Internet, and if the user is disabled, it clearly benefits that user directly. However, it also benefits those who offer web content, allowing more people to access their information and to make use of it. For companies engaging in e-commerce, increased accessibility provides a larger consumer base. In the broadest sense, Web accessibility is a matter of public service, for the Internet is the new public forum in which social and political issues are debated and expressed.
Need for Accessible Websites
Computer technology is bringing new hope to the disabled. Safko International Inc. is a company which develops technology for the disabled, and president Lon Safko says that we are all only "temporarily able-bodied" and so will need some sort of assistance at some time in our lives. The company undertook ten years of research and development and sought input from more than 1,000 disabled individuals and rehabilitation centers…[continue]
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