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Growing the Internet 26 April 2016

An Accessible Internet

Rajnesh Singh
By Rajnesh SinghRegional Vice President - Asia-Pacific

There is no conclusive data globally, but most studies seem to indicate that around 20% of the population has some sort of disability. While this does not always translate to the person not being able to use the Internet, there still is a significant percentage that is not able to – particularly if they are visually or physically challenged.

Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) have been around for a while, and over the years they have been continually updated and developed to try and provide a better user experience. While some websites have adopted these – to varying degrees – a large proportion have not.

Keeping in mind that Internet users with accessibility needs are a significant part of the population, this does mean that many of them are not able to make full use of the content available. For businesses this translates to lost opportunities – if a user is not able to view the content, then they are also not going to buy a product or service made available through the site.

This also applies to non-commercial websites – be they run by the government or others. With more and more governments embracing e-government services, it is critical that these services meet accessibility guidelines so that all parts of the population are able to make full use of these services.

Recently, I was in Pakistan where I met with the ICT Accessibility Working Group and the Ministry of Information Technology. It was very encouraging to note that at the meeting, the Ministry made a commitment to ensure that its own website met accessibility guidelines and immediately put in place a team to work with members of the ICT Accessibility Working Group. In just over a week, the team was able to meet all the requirements for web accessibility under the WCAG. Moreover, the Ministry made a further commitment to encourage other parts of government to do the same. Estimates indicate around 10% of Pakistan’s population has accessibility needs, so this is a great step forward.

Last year we partnered with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to launch a mobile app development competition to encourage local mobile content and services development in the country. This year, a strategic decision was made to focus the 2016 Mobile App Awards on accessibility issues for People with Disabilities with the theme “Embracing Mobile Accessibility”.

This is another small way to not only raise awareness of accessibility issues but also encourage developers and the technical community to be inclusive from the very beginning when designing and launching products and services – and in this way universal design becomes inherent.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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