How user-friendly is your website? If you haven't considered people with disabilities as your consumers you might be missing an obvious market or you might even be breaking the law.
According to a Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) from 2001 there were an estimated 3.6 million people living in Canada with a disability. In 2003, with Canada's population at 30.5 million, that accounted for about 10% of the population. With roughly 500 million disabled people around the world, there is a real need to consider website functionality for people with special needs.
What The Law Has To Say About Disability
A USA ruling may soon find its way into Canada. On September 6, 2006 a federal judge of the United States issued a ruling for a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind against the Target Corporation retailer. The US District Court stated that the Disability Act requires accessibility to all services that are offered by a place of public accommodation. Since Target has a physical store, the ruling indicated that the online store must also be accessible or offer an equally effective alternative. This set a new precedent for websites; what was once voluntary, would now be mandatory. American online-schools eligible for federal funds must also follow regulations under the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which has since been updated to include websites. The Act indicates that any schools with federal funding must provide an accessible website for people with disability. In Canada, Federal Bodies and Regulatory Bodies are categorically expected to have websites that follow the Common Look and Feel policy of the W3C guidelines. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms it is a requirement to give equality to Canadians with disability. PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) indicates that organizations are required to provide an alternative format for people with sensory disability.
Web Design for the Disabled
Numerous technologies are currently available in the market to assist people with permanent and temporary disabilities in using the web. These assistive technologies are either software based like screen magnifiers, screen readers, and text to speech synthesizers. Or hardware based, such as Braille and large or mini keyboards and switches. Web Developers can also help optimize the web experience by enabling, for instance, text to speech readers and screen readers, flexible style sheets, or breaking up text into smaller blocks, and applying other similar best practice functions. Balancing a clean and professional image with accessibility standards can be challenging.
There are not many Canadian web design firms that implement these standards into building a website. With the population of 500 million people, it's a market niche and one soon to be legally impossible to ignore. To learn more about what it takes to make your website accessible to the disabled, contact the web design company, 9thCO.