While the majority of sites out there are not unusable, it takes people with disabilities – roughly 8.3pc of the population – three to four times longer to find the information they want online, says Brendan Spillane, owner of web design firm ilikecake.net.
As part of the Accessibility Explored Information Day, which is being organised jointly by the Irish Internet Association and accessibility software firm Browsealoud on 9 April in the Radisson hotel in Dublin, Spillane will be talking business owners through the process of buying accessible sites.
Spillane says he wants to dispel the myth that sites which accommodate the visually or cognitively impaired look worse or cost more than your average website.
“In fact, it makes better business sense to have an accessible website because it doesn’t just help those with disabilities, it helps everyone.
“If you make information easier to find for someone with a cognitive disability, it will be easier for everyone to find,” explains Spillane.
While 65-year-olds may be able to browse the web and send emails, 10 years from now there may be impairment of use, the hand may not be as steady as it once was, and this is another good reason to make sure sites are accessibility compliant, he adds.
Going back a few years ago, government sites were notoriously difficult to navigate if you had a disability but there has been a big improvement since then, notes Spillane.
Microsoft has also taken accessibility issues on board, incorporating compliance from the very beginning of the design process when developing Silverlight, its version of Flash.
While there are ways of approaching web design that leaves it easier to make your site more accessibility-friendly in the future, Spillane says many companies still use an older, tables-based approach.
This means a site would have to be redesigned from scratch if it wants to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, as set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is the official organisation for web standards.
There are several accessibility-compliant Irish sites out there, one being www.cheshire.ie, an organisation for the rehabilitation of people with physical disabilities.
By Marie Boran