Beyond Section 508 Compliance and WCAG 2.0: Why Accessibility Matters

I recently ran across a letter to the editor in The Opinion Pages of The New York Times titled Inequality and the Internet: Why Some Remain Offline, written by Lainey Feingold, a disability rights lawyer in Berkeley, California.  It refers to an article published in The New York Times on August 18th called Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren’t Plugged In. The original Times article points out that nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to some form of high-speed Internet but goes on to say that 20 percent of American adults do no use the Internet at home, work or school and experts are concerned that around 60 million people are shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education as a result.

In her letter, Feingold points out that the article could have discussed the effect of disabilities on internet usage since the report the article was based on recognized the impact of disability.

Often when we consider digital accessibility it brings to mind guidelines such as Section 508 and WCAG 2.0., which are in place to specifically address accessibility of online content. I want to highlight Feingold’s letter here in the Accessibility Matters Blog because through it, and the article it reacts to, Feingold brings us beyond the guidelines and highlights the effect inaccessible content has on society and, therefore, clearly demonstrates that Accessibility Matters. 

The letter:

Inequality and the Internet: Why Some Remain Offline

Published: August 22, 2013


Your otherwise excellent article about the digital divide (“Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren’t Plugged In,” Business Day, Aug. 19) missed an opportunity to discuss the significant digital divide between people with disabilities and those not (yet) disabled.

The Commerce Department report on which your article was based recognized the impact of disability. It found that Internet use among those with a disability is only 48 percent compared with 76 percent for those with no disability. In every metric used in the report, people with disabilities lagged behind. Your reporters rightly covered the digital divide based on race, age, education, class and geography. Disability deserved to be covered as well.

In my experience as a disability civil rights lawyer working with the blind community on technology and information access issues, the disability divide has two major components. First, disability cuts across and magnifies all other factors you mention.

Second, and equally important, there is a digital divide for people with disabilities because of a lack of accessible online content. Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, recognized that, saying: “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Berkeley, Calif., Aug. 19, 2013

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