In this TED talk, legal scholar Ron McCallum, who has been blind since birth, talks about how technology —from Braille to reel-to-reel tape to personal computers to the internet — opened up the world of reading to him: http://on.ted.com/RonMcCallum
Ron's inspiring talk reminds us how much technology has helped people with visual impairments access a world of information, conversation, education and entertainment that was previously all but closed to them.
When we talk about websites being accessible, this is what we're really talking about. The discipline of web accessibility, with its emphasis on validation tools, its acronyms and jargon ("WCAG 2.0 Level AAA" and so on), can seem dry and legalistic, especially since it's often concerned with government websites, where accessibility is a legal requirement.
But at its heart, accessibility is about giving more people the opportunity to live life to the full.
So why isn't every website accessible? After all, the web is built on a foundation of HTML, a technology that's inherently accessible because it's based on plain text. It's the extra stuff we put on top of HTML that makes websites inaccessible — but with a bit of care and attention, it doesn't have to make them inaccessible.
One of the reasons Weave Web is proud to participate in the Australian Web Awards — and to have won a couple of them — is the high premium they place on accessibility. A website literally can't be considered for an award if it doesn't meet basic accessibility requirements.
And that's how it should be. The fact that there are still websites being built that vision impaired people have no access to isn't a trivial matter — it's a serious blot on the web.