The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information









Making Web sites accessible

To see how the Center for An Accessible Society's home page would look if you were using a text-only web browser such as Lynx, look at it in Lynx-view.

Business Week Online assistive technology columnist John Williams talks with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the June 21 deadline for website access -- and the business opportunity it is presenting. Read column.
The website of the San Francisco-based Rose Resnick LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been designed with blind viewers in mind.The redesigned website is both visually attractive and fully accessible. Developed by San Francisco marketing communications firm Wessling Creative, the new LightHouse website uses vivid colors, ebullient graphics and colorful photos.

"It's bold, it's bright, it's digital Braille," said Tony Wessling, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Wessling Creative. "We're very proud to have built a beautiful site for the LightHouse that can be enjoyed by people using screen reader software, refreshable Braille displays, screen magnification programs or your ordinary web browser."

Making Web sites accessible is just common sense. One in five Americans has some disability; as the country ages, that percentage is expected to increase. A Web site that's navigable by an assistive technology such as a screen reader is also accessible by phones and palmtops, not to mention by old, slow computers. Read reporter Judy Heim's overview of online accessibility in the September, 2000 PC World online.

Web access rules take effect June 21.
Starting June 21, electronic and information technology products and services that federal agencies buy must meet new accessibility standards. Federal agencies must also follow these standards. This includes computers and Internet websites.

It's part of Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act which was revised in 1998. The section spells out, for the first time, standards for developing accessible web pages.

Considering the number of people who use the Internet who need a way to listen to text and navigate with voice, web accessibility makes sense. An article in the May 21 Federal Computer Week gives a good overview of the issue. The National Park Service has a number of links to valuable accessibility resources including simplified version of the guidelines at If you're a web developer, JAWS For Windows has a trial version you can download to test how your site sounds to text-to-voice screen readers, at And Bobby, a free service provided by the Center for Applied Special Technology, can help web page authors identify and repair significant barriers to access by individuals with disabilities.

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to the Internet? Several laws govern accessibility of websites.

What are the implications of requiring the Internet to be accessible to everyone?

While opponents of access claim it is costly to provide access, in fact the opposite is true: It is the added-on graphics and other showy displays of sound and animation that are costly -- both to produce and to maintain.

Basic access is built into the architecture of the World Wide Web and has been since the infancy of the internet, as Judy Brewer of the World Wide Web consortium can explain.

But even sites that today operate with high-end graphics and sound displays can easily be made accessible. Accessible sites have many advantages:

  • Many websurfers today eagerly look for a "text-only" link on a home page, or simply turn off the graphics option on their browser so sites will load faster and they can avoid the screaming ad-based content of graphics-bloated sites.

  • As personal digital assistants become more popular, text-based content becomes important. (Because the screens on such devices are so small, graphics will probably never be a viable option.)

  • The busy executive waiting in an airport who wants to check her stock portfolio on her cell phone isn't going to turn to a graphics-only site.

  • With the growth of voice technology, the harried commuter can have the headlines from his favorite news site read to him as he drives -- but only if there is a text-based version.

  • Ever try to find a particular scene from your favorite video by pushing -- and re-pushing -- the "fast forward" button, then the "replay," over and over? If digitized video had synchronized captions, its text could be searched instantaneously. That's another benefit of access.

    What does the law mean by "accessible'?



    The World Wide Web Consortium, the W3C, is working to ensuring that core technologies of the Web support accessibility.

    Making multimedia websites accessible







    EXPERTS IN web access:

    The Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access formed the Information Technology Technical Assistance & Training Center to promote the development of accessible electronic & information technology. Reach them at 1-866-948-8282 (Voice/TTY) or by email at

    Judy Brewer
    Director of the World Wide Web Consortium
    Web Access Initiative

    Brewer's group develops web guidelines, conducts education and outreach on Web-accessibility solutions.

    Kate Vanderheiden
    Trace Research and Development Center
    at the University of Wisconsin/Madison

    Pam Gregory
    Disabilities Issues Task Force
    Federal Communications Commission
    202/418-2498 or 202/418-1169 (TTY)



    The following sites contain information that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that the information at these sites is not controlled by the Center for An Accessible society. Links to these sites do not imply that the Center supports either the organizations or the views presented.
    One of the best overviews of the issue of web access we've found is the article "Locking Out the Disabled," from PC World magazine's September, 2000 issue. Lots of good links, too.

    Learn how Georgia Tech's Center for Rehabilitation Technology's site was made accessible at

    Judith M. Dixon, Ph.D., Consumer Relations Officer for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has written "Levelling The Road Ahead," a set of "Guidelines For The Creation Of WWW Pages Accessible To Blind And Visually Handicapped Users" -- online at

    A rather comprehensive set of links for accessible website authoring can be found at

    All of Camera Obscura's index of academic and scholarly resources are either easily navigatable with speech or have been extensively re-indexed so that the information they contain is easily and immediately accessible via speech-synthesis and/or text-based access. This document also contains speech-friendly submission forms for many standard reference works, as well as telephone and address directories and resources which are easily navigated using speech-synthesis and a text-based browser.

    "Designing a More Usable World for All," from the Trace Center

    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

    Fact Sheet for "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0"

    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

    Web Content Accessibility Guideline Checkpoints

    "Advocates of People With Disabilities Take Online Stores to Task" from the Jan. 1. New York Times

    Story about new guidelines from The Associated Press.

    The Digital Divide and People with Disabilities

    Quick tips on making websites accessible from the Web Access Initiative







    Expert sources

    The Digital Divide

    Section 508

    The Web Access Initiative


    About The Center for An Accessible Society