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[media] Making Sites Accessible Makes Sense For All Customers

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 11:27:04 -0500
Message-ID: <3A880ED8.A63B7D77@po.state.ct.us>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
InternetWeek Online
February 12, 2001 

Editor's Note
Making Sites Accessible Makes Sense For All Customers

A year ago, InternetWeek columnist Bill Frezza was blasted with hate
mail after he dared question a government plan to penalize Web sites
that don't provide equal access for the disabled. Frezza's point--one
not fully appreciated by many readers--was that the ensuing regulatory,
tort and special-interest quagmire would swamp the measure's societal

What everyone may have underestimated at the time was industry's
proclivity to get on board--not necessarily because companies fear
government sanctions, not necessarily because helping the disabled is
"the right thing to do," but because improving access for the disabled
improves access for everyone, serving companies' broader interests. 

E-businesses, as well as the IT vendors that supply them, stand to score
more than a handful of new customers and publicity points by redesigning
their sites, applications, keyboards and other IT access points for the
physically impaired.

For one thing, 54 million Americans--who represent $1 trillion in
disposable income--have some form of disability, reports associate
editor L. Scott Tillett in his page 1 story on the government's
accessibility requirements. And by making their products easier to use
or their sites easier to navigate, companies cater to all of their
customers, not just those with handicaps. 

For instance, onboard computers in cars may one day take data from an
"accessibly designed" Web site and turn it into computer-generated
speech for drivers who may want to access directions or other site
information without pulling over. Another accessibility technique
involves separating Web content from presentation so visually impaired
users can change the font size or contrast of text. E-businesses should
be moving in that direction anyway to make their sites more hospitable
for users of small-screen wireless devices or to let all of their
customers customize their Web experiences.

IBM and other IT vendors call this the "trickle-down effect" of
designing products that help federal agencies comply with Section 508 of
the Workforce Investment Act, due to take effect this summer. Vendors
will create only one set of products instead of a government
(disabled-aware) version and a nongovernment (disabled-averse) version. 

That unified product development, in turn, will make it cost-effective
for all companies to retrofit their operations with content presentation
and IT accessibility improvements for customers and employees. It's a
great opportunity to rethink how you interact with those key
constituencies. Fidelity Investments, for one, is doing just that,
independent of any federal mandate.

Meantime, what Frezza warned about a year ago--a wave of debilitating
lawsuits aimed at e-businesses and IT shops--is indeed on the horizon. 

Last year the National Federation of the Blind dropped a lawsuit against
America Online after the company agreed to make version 6 of its
software accessible to screen readers, but more litigation based on the
508 standards is likely come summertime.

The carrot is always a better incentive than the stick. Start evaluating
the accessibility of your Web and IT infrastructure now because it's a
smart business move, not because of government or legal threats.

Robert Preston is editor in chief of InternetWeek. He can be reached at
rpreston@ cmp.com


Kathleen Anderson, Webmaster
Office of the State Comptroller
55 Elm Street
Hartford, Connecticut  06106
e-mail: kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us
URL: http://www.osc.state.ct.us/
Received on Monday, 12 February 2001 11:26:31 UTC

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