Accessibility Issues and the World Wide Web

One of the most important principles of website design is making the website universally accessible to users, including those with disabilities, and those with different computer brands, speeds and web browsers. There are numerous difficulties that web developers face in making their websites universally accessible to users with disabilities. As a result, the disabled do not have full access to the internet and cannot benefit from what it has to offer. Web developers are also affected because the disabled could potentially represent a significant share of internet users. This is a serious, yet unrecognized problem in our society as “16% of Ontario’s population has some form of disability” (MMAH 1991). Some of the disabilities that Web designers often fail to consider are colour blindness and vision problems, such as the ability to read available font sizes. This barrier of use is easily overcome at the design level of website creation and should not be tolerated by society.

Charles Leadbeater noted that our society "must be socially inclusive to realise its full potential” (Leadbeater 2004 p.27). He goes on to say that “[it] is critical for an economy that seeks to trade on its know-how and ideas… [to comprehend the severity of] throwing away precious assets: brainpower, intelligence, and creativity” (Leadbeater 2004 p.27). The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has established a set of technical standards for web developers through the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI); this consists of fourteen guidelines for making web content accessible to people with disabilities. (Johnson & Ruppert 2002).

WAI Guidelines

The WAI Guidelines are as follows (for further information on any of the recommendations, click on the appropriate link):

1. Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.

  1. Home Page Reader (HPR).
    • HPR is a program that is used to aid people with hearing impairments. HPR transfers web text into audible form.
  2. Offer Alternative Text in place of images

2. Don't rely on color alone.
  • 8-12% of European males have some sort of colour blindness
    • red and yellow colour-blindness are most common
  1. Ensure that the background colour contrasts well with the text.
  2. Avoid Red-Green Combinations (Masataka & Kei 2002)

3. Use markup and style sheets and do so properly.

4. Clarify natural language usage

5. Create tables that transform gracefully.

6. Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully.

7. Ensure user control of time-sensitive content changes.

8. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces.

9. Design for device-independence.

10. Use interim solutions.

11. Use W3C technologies and guidelines.

12. Provide context and orientation information.

13. Provide clear navigation mechanisms.

14. Ensure that documents are clear and simple.


Diagram: Relationship between developers & users of the WWW

This diagram visually depicts the communication relationship between developers and users of the World Wide Web, with the WAI accessibility guidelines.


Figure 1: The relationship between developers and users with the accessibility guidelines in place.

(Retrieved from:

By supporting the accessibility features of the WAI, it becomes easier and therefore more efficient and effective for developers to create accessibility friendly webspaces. The importance of the guidelines will show its face pervasively in our society day by day, project by project, and interface by interface; builidng a more socially inclusive, complete, and thriving nation.

Colour Blindness / Deficiency

Interesting Facts
  • Red/Green colour blindness is the most common.
  • Blue/yellow colour blindness exists, but is more rare.
  • occurs in about 8-12% of males of European descent.
  • half of 1% of females.
  • total colour blindness is extremely rare.
  • There is no treatment for colour blindness
  • About 6-10% of any viewing audience suffers from some kind of colour blindness.
Source: CCT305 lecture ppt notes

What should you do?

- Contrast colours to help distinguish areas of different colours as opposed to the colours themselves.
- Exaggerate the contrast of foreground/background or adjacent colours.
- Avoid contrasting colours of similar hues and analagous colours.
- Make sure your website functions correctly with the appropriate adaptive technologies
- Make sure you use web-safe colors

Related Links

Internet Users with Disabilities

Works Cited

Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (1991). Ontarians With Disabilities Act. [online]. Available at: [accessed February 19th, 2006]

Johnson, A. & Ruppert, S. (2002). ‘An Evolution of accessibility in online learning management systems’ Library Hi Tech [online]. Volume 20, Number 4. Available from: [accessed February 19th, 2006]

Leadbeater, C. “Living on thin air”, The Information Society Reader. Ed. Frank Webster, London and New York: Routledge, 2004. p27.

Masataka, O. & Kei, I. (2002). How to Make Presentations that are friendly to color blind people [online]. Available at: [accessed February 19th, 2006]

Szeto, An. CCT305 - Lecture 4, January 31, 2006.

Web Accessibility Initiative. (2005). Essential components of web accessibility. Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry. Availabe at: [accessed February 20, 2006].

Web Accessibility Initiative. (2005). Web content accessibility guidelines 1.0. Editor: Shawn Lawton Henry. Availabe at: [accessed February 20, 2006].