Accessibility means removing barriers that can prevent people with disabilities from participating in substantial life activities, including the use of services, products, and information.
Removing barriers to access often results in benefits for a wide range of people--not only those with disabilities. For example, until curb cut ramps were placed on sidewalks, it was difficult or impossible for people in wheelchairs to cross a street. In addition to providing a wheelchair solution, curb cuts have benefited people on bicycles, as well as those pushing shopping carts and baby carriages.
Designing accessible software has similar beneficial consequences for a wide range of users. Solutions that allow use of the keyboard instead of the mouse aid users involved in keyboard-intensive tasks. Users of portables or those in open offices with telephones ringing may not be able to use or hear sounds. Providing visual cues to augment or replace audible cues assists these users, in addition to assisting hearing impaired users.
There is a growing market for accessible computer products. Approximately 40 million Americans have a disability of some type, and as the population ages, more and more people will develop age-related disabilities (25% by age 55, jumping to 50% at age 65).
Like all computer users, users with disabilities vary in age, computer experience, interests, and education. When barriers are removed, the computer gives them a tool to compete with all other users on an equal basis. Users with disabilities are engineers, artists, scientists, designers, lawyers, administrative assistants, and software engineers. The common thread among these diverse users is that computers play an important role in their daily work.
Not only does providing access provide benefits for a wide range of users, but it is also a requirement in all current federal contracts under section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. In the commercial sector, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) calls for similar considerations when reasonably accommodating current and prospective employees.