Why Make Application Software More Accessible?
There are many reasons for a company to consider making their applications
more accessible. They include:
1) One in ten citizens has a disability of some type. It is
estimated that seven to nine out of every ten major
corporations employ individuals with disabilities who may need
to access software as a part of their job.
There are between thirty and forty million people in the United
States who have disabilities which affect their ability to use
computers and application software. At the same time,
computers are becoming integral parts of our living,
educational and working environments. As a result, there is a
growing concern that if computers, operating systems and
application software are not accessible to this fairly large
portion of our population, they will be unable to participate
effectively in these environments.
2) Our population is rapidly aging. The number of individuals
with disabilities or who have functional limitations is
continually growing. Every year, this population includes more
and more computer users.
The population is steadily growing older. As we age, most of
us lose some of our physical, sensory, or mental abilities. By
age 55, 25% of us will experience functional limitations (see
Figure 1). By age 65, this percentage will rise to 50%. For
the growing number of us who will live to be 70 years old or
older, 75% will experience functional impairments. In fifty
years, it is estimated that more than a third of the population
will be over age 55 and a sixth will be over 70 (based on US
Congress Office of Technology Assessment OTA-BA-264).
Figure 1 shows a series of 8 pie charts, each representing an
age group and the percentage having functional limitations or
severe functional limitations:
15-24 years: 1% with functional limitations; minimal with
25-34 years: 7.5% with functional limitations, 2% with
35-44 years: 13.4% with functional limitations, 3% with
45-54 years: 23% with functional limitations, 6% with
55-64 years: 34.2% with functional limitations, 12% with
65-69 years: 45.4% with functional limitations, 18.5% with
70-74 years: 55.3% with functional limitations, 22% with
75+ years: 72.5% with functional limitations, 41% with
3) Standard software which is designed to be usable by individuals
with performance limitations is also usually easier to use by
Curbcuts were put into sidewalk street corners for people in
wheelchairs, but for every one person in a wheelchair who use
these curbcuts, there are ten individuals with bicycles, carts,
baby strollers, etc. who use the curbcut. Similarly, the
adaptations to software for people with disabilities that make
the software easier to see on the screen, operate from the
keyboard, understand, etc., also make the software easier to
use quickly, efficiently, and without errors for individuals
who do not have disabilities. One example is MouseKeys, a
feature that was added to operating systems to allow people who
cannot use a mouse to move the mouse cursor from the keyboard.
This feature is also commonly used by people doing graphics
layout to make fine adjustments in graphic positioning, because
it allows precise, pixel-by-pixel movement from the keyboard
which is not possible using the standard mouse.
4) Software compatible with accessibility software is usually also
more compatible with software extensions and to cross-program
Some of the principle strategies for making application
software more compatible with disability access software
- doing things in the standard fashion (i.e., following user
- using system tools,
- supporting inter-application communications and other
means for one piece of software to issue commands to, and
extract information from, another application program.
These also make the program more compatible with other
nondisability-related system extensions and inter-application
macro and scripting utilities.
5) The Federal government is interested in software applications
that are more accessible and "accessibility aid friendly."
Some of this interest is backed by legislation.
Among the legislative efforts is Section 508 of the
Rehabilitation Act. This mandates the General Services
Administration of the U.S. Government to work with the National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to develop
guidelines for the purchase of computers and other electronic
office equipment in order to ensure that the equipment
purchased by the Government is accessible to its employees with
disabilities. The text of Section 508 is provided in Figure 2.
A copy of the 508 related regulations and guidelines is
included in appendix D. At the present time, the GSA Guidelines
describe features that would be desirable in computers and
operating systems. Discussions are underway, however,
regarding an extension of the GSA Guidelines to include
application software, to make sure that applications cooperate
with access features being built into the operating systems as
well as lending themselves to access and use by people with
disabilities. This White Paper reflects these discussions, and
provides industry with a mechanism for participating in the
exploration and discussion of these topics as well. Review,
comment, and feedback on this White Paper and subsequent
cooperative Industry Design Guidelines can help provide
guidance to others in industry interested in this area. Also,
in that interested people within the government also receive
and review this document it can act as a means of communication
and input to government processes and deliberations on this
topic as well.
The recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act requires
that companies make their work environments more accessible to
individuals with disabilities. As a result, not only the
Federal government but the public sector and private companies
will be increasingly interested in software application
programs which are more accessible and work well with existing
and future special access features and accessories.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Sect. 508. Electronic Equipment Accessibility
(a) (1) The Secretary, through the National Institute on
Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the
Administration of the General Services, in consultation
with the electronics industry, shall develop and
establish guidelines for electronic office equipment
accessibility designed to insure that handicapped
individuals may use electronic office equipment with or
without special peripherals.
(2) The guidelines established pursuant to
paragraph (1) shall be applicable with respect to
electronic equipment, whether purchased or leased.
(3) The initial guidelines shall be established not
later than October 1, 1987, and shall be periodically
revised as technologies advance or change.
(b) Beginning after September 30, 1988, the Administrator of
General Services shall adopt guidelines for electronic
equipment accessibility established under subsection (a) for
Federal procurement of electronic equipment. Each agency
shall comply with the guidelines adopted under this
(c) For the purpose of this section, the term special
peripherals means a special needs aid that provides access to
electronic equipment that is otherwise inaccessible to a
6) It usually adds little and sometimes nothing to manufacturing
costs for a product.
The bulk of all accessibility design features cost little or
nothing once they are included in the basic design of the
product. For software products the difference in manufacturing
costs is often zero. In exchange, the products are usually
easier for everyone to use and the products are applicable to a
7) It's the appropriate thing to do.
The ability of people with disabilities to work, receive an
education, or even access information and other services from
their homes, is rapidly becoming dependent upon their ability
to access and use computers. If computers and application
programs are not accessible, then individuals with disabilities
will not be able to participate in education, employment, or
daily living. It isn't appropriate to design software that
cuts off that many people from such an important area when more
accessible software costs no more to manufacturer and is
generally faster, easier, less fatiguing, and less error-prone
to use for everyone.
If properly done, making software more accessible:
- usually adds little or nothing to the cost to manufacture
- provides new insights into improved human interface design
- increases the market for the product
- brings products into compliance with current and
government purchasing requirements
- allows most people to access and use the software in
education, and home.