Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the inaugural International Web Accessibility Summit. On behalf of the Interactive Information Institute at RMIT and the W3C, I would like to welcome you to this important event.
I don't know how you feel, but I am really excited and privileged to be here today. I feel like I'm with the smarter kids in the advanced class. By being here, you are the leaders who have realised that Web accessibility is an important issue.
The Web is still young, and everyone is still learning. Most of the other kids are just scribbling around with HTML, GIFs, and Flash in kindergarten. However, you've moved on from that stage. You've realised that you have a definite goal for the Web - to communicate or to interact with another human being.
I've called this introduction "A is for Accessibility". The first thing we learn in school is the alphabet. Without it we're just making random babbling noises; which unfortunately is what a lot of Web sites are doing today. And the first letter of the alphabet is "a". So, the first thing we should be thinking of is accessibility.
The Web has come a long way in just eight years. But, obviously, like any other eight year old, it still has a long way to go in its development. That's why the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has formed its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), and it is pleased to be a part of this Summit. We at the W3C want to see the Web develop to its full potential. And that full potential will never be met if it is not accessible.
Accessibility is making access possible, regardless of situation or circumstances. And that fits into the traditional goals of the W3C. Firstly, because we see the Web as being a universal medium that goes across boundaries. And secondly, it complements many of the issues we are focusing on (such as device independence, internationalisation, etc). The W3C does not set policies, but develops guidelines and solutions that others can adopt.
I don't think anyone will disagree with me that the Web is spreading into all areas of society and life; and it will become much more so in the future. If the Web is not accessible, then part of my life - part of your life - will be severely affected, restricted, or gone! And that is a big worry. So, we have better pay attention to our ABCs - especially the "a" part.
The subject of accessibility is often applied to disabilities. It is obvious that Web accessibility is an issue for the blind, etc. However, it also an issue that applies to able-bodied people as well.
I have problems reading Web sites which have hard-coded font sizes that are too small for my screen. I can't view a lot of sites through my portable PDA computer. Others are just too painful to use over a slow modem link. Others require a particular browser and platform to work. These are all accessibility issues.
A site that ignores Web accessibility issues doesn't just loose disabled users. About 10% to 20% of the population have disabilities of one form or another, so that's already a quite high number lost. It also could loose able-bodied users too: and that means 100% of the population!
What does that mean? Lost customers, lost income, misinformation or lost communication, law suits, inconvenience, loss of life. All of the above?
So let's take the lesson of accessibility seriously. And let's make the most of these next two days. We've got a great lineup of speakers covering a range of vital accessibility topics. Let's sharpen our pencils, have fun, and make the world and the Web a better place.