Joe Clark: Media access

Updated 2003.03.10

Web accessibility and the digital archive

NYPL presentation, 2003.04.25

Here are some notes and references on Web accessibility for the digital archive.

On this page: Statistics  ¶  Standards  ¶  Laws  ¶  Resources


How many people with disabilities are online?

U.S. Internet users

Figures with greater scientific credibility are hard to find, but they exist.

The Survey on Income and Program Participation (SIPP, 1999, carried out by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, National Telecommunications and Information Administration) found the following basic statistics on disability groups:

The number of people with certain disabilities and “access” to the Internet was also surveyed.

By contrast, 56.7% of nondisabled people have Internet access.

A University of California, San Francisco study from the year 2000 [PDFHTML] uses a broader definition of disability (“work” disability, which, for this topic, does not break down specific disability categories, like blindness or deafness). In that study, “[o]nly one-tenth (10%) of people with disabilities connect to the Internet, compared to almost four-tenths (38%) of those without disabilities.... Of the 21 million Americans with work disabilities... only two million ever use the Internet.”

This same study also finds very low usage rates of adaptive technology other than white canes: “A very small number of people (3% of blind persons and 0.1% of those with low vision) specifically [mention using adapted] computer equipment.” It is likely that many low-vision people do not need adaptive technology, but these numbers are still surprisingly low.


The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG, annoyingly pronounced “wikagg”), the only international standards available for Web accessibility.

These Version 1.0 guidelines are old and out of date, but the new Version 2.0 is nowhere near ready, so we’re stuck with 1.0.


For a more extensive listing of accessibility laws, see the Web AccessiBlog sections Government requirements or Lawsuits.

Section 508

In the U.S., Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires most government departments and agencies, some contractors, and some recipients of government funds to meet certain accessibility standards, which are functionally equivalent to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in most respects.

Human-rights codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Human-rights codes almost certainly apply to the Web. In Australia, Bruce Maguire pursued a successful complaint against the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games. No similar complaints are known to have been filed in the U.S., but the relevant legislation is often effectively identical.

Recent cases in the U.S. under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been mixed. A complaint against Southwest Airlines was dismissed (see counterargument), while another case against the Atlanta transportation authority was upheld.



The two most important mailing lists in Web accessibility are WAI-IG (Interest Group) and Webaim. If you’re interested in working on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, read the WAI-GL (Guidelines) list.

Feel free to post questions and URLs for site critique to the WAI-IG or Webaim lists.


My Web AccessiBlog, which I really ought to update more, contains listings of hundreds of accessibility-related topics, with an entire page of other Weblogs on accessibility. One-stop shopping.

Some of my other related sites:

You might find my glossary of accessibility terms useful.

Adaptive technology
Screen readers
Braille displays
  • An example of a Braille display by Tiemann.
  • You can also watch a video with Jason White of the Web Accessibility Initiative demonstrating his highly advanced Braille display.

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