How Many of Your Users Need Accessible Websites?

By Amit Diwan
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The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) came into existence in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities. If the Web is accessible, many people with disabilities can communicate and interact with content much more easily.

In this article I will list some statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other known sources. I hope this post will help to create awareness on the importance of creating content for those using assistive technology, including blind as well as hearing impaired people.

Note: Some of the data presented in this article in images is not accessible. The images are merely to demonstrate some of the statistics in another format. All of the images have source links where the data can be found in more accessible formats (e.g. PDF).

Understanding Why People Have Disabilities

Before getting into the stats, let’s first briefly look at some causes behind disabilities:

  • Blindness is caused, among other things, by glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosis, onchocerciasi, and corneal opacification. These diseases often limit a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and affects their quality of life. Naturally, this will also affect their ability to access web content.
  • Hearing loss may be inherited, caused by maternal rubella or complications at birth, certain infectious diseases such as chronic ear infections, exposure to excessive noise, ageing, and so on. The same quality of life factors are at play here, and specifically this will affect how they access audio content on web pages.
Causes of Blindness

Causes of Blindness (source)

We don’t need an extensive discussion of causes here, so that should suffice to get a general understanding. Let’s consider the stats now.

Worldwide Blindness Statistics:

According to WHO, there are 285 million people worldwide who, due to some disability (i.e. they are suffering with low vision), cannot read all content on a website. 39 million of those people are blind and cannot access any of the content via sight.

Additionally, there are 360 million people suffering from hearing loss worldwide.

Number of people (in thousands) blind, with low vision and visually impaired per million population

Number of people (in thousands) blind, with low vision and visually impaired per million population (source)

Here are some further statistics:

  • Approximately one-third of persons over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss.
  • About 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in developing countries.
  • 82% of people living with blindness are aged 50 and above.
2010 Global estimate of the number of people visually impaired by age, for all ages in parenthesis the corresponding prevalence (%)

2010 Global estimate of the number of people visually impaired by age, for all ages in parenthesis the corresponding prevalence (%) (source)

Number of people visually impaired and corresponding percentage of the global impairment by WHO Region and country, 2010

Number of people visually impaired and corresponding percentage of the global impairment by WHO Region and country, 2010 (source)

UK Blindness Statistics (FightForSight)

Here are some facts from thee FightForSight report, a study done in the UK:

  • 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss. These figures are expected to rise to over 2,250,000 in 2020 and nearly four million in 2050.
  • There are 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK who have irreversible sight loss.
  • An estimated 25,000 children in the UK are blind or partially sighted.
  • Someone in the world goes blind every 5 seconds.
  • 50% of sight loss cases cannot be avoided.

Blindness Statistics in India

  • India has one the largest blind populations in the world with around 15 million blind people.
  • It is said that one out of every three blind people in the world lives in India.
  • There are around 2 million blind children in India.
  • There are 30,000 new cases of blindness every year.
  • Glaucoma is the largest cause of blindness in India, currently affecting more than 4.5 million people.

Accessibility guidelines are not for blind people only. As mentioned above, there are more than 600 million people suffering from hearing problems, cognitive disabilities, and other hearing-related issues. The figures below show some data from WHO regarding hearing disabilities:

Worldwide hearing loss statistics

Worldwide hearing loss statistics (source)

Prevalence of Disabling Hearing Loss (DHL) in some regions

Prevalence of Disabling Hearing Loss (DHL) in some regions (source)

Disabling hearing loss statistics

Disabling hearing loss statistics (source)

If your content is not equally distributed to everyone then this lack of accessibility becomes a social and legal issue. There are some laws that define that services provided should be available to everyone regardless of ability.

The 2010 Equality Act and its predecessor the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act created a legal duty for businesses and organizations to ensure their services are available to everyone regardless of disability.

There is a misconception that the main focus of web accessibility may be people with permanent or long-term disabilities, but accessibility benefits people with or without disabilities. For example, those impacted include:

  • People who are not fluent in English.
  • People who do not have or are unable to use a keyboard or mouse.
  • People with temporary disabilities due to accident or illness.
  • Older people.
  • New users.

There are a number of initiatives under way all over the world to create awareness about accessibility, the visually impaired, hearing disabled people, and other issues, including Google’s Web accessibility course, Foundation Fighting Blindness, Adobe’s Accessibility Initiatives (PDF), and more.

The Future of Accessibility

There is much to look forward to as many big initiatives are taking relevant steps to spread awareness. There is Google’s Accessible Web Search for visually impaired people, Foundation Fighting Blindness, various initiatives by World Health Initiatives are just a few.

I personally know more than 50 people suffering from incurable eye diseases with low vision from India, USA, Nepal, South Africa, etc. I also have had conversations with more than 20 designers and developers who have developed interactive websites, but still don’t know the importance of accessible websites.

I look forward to users with disabilities having the same ability to access content as everyone else. And if designers and developers need any extra incentive, besides those already mentioned in this article, making a websites equally accessible to all means your website traffic will increase and ultimately this will mean a more successful website.

So how many of your users require accessible content? You won’t know unless you analyze your own visitor data. In the meantime, the stats discussed above should give you a general idea that you can use as a gauge for future projects.

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  • Jeff Seager

    You’ve done a great job of gathering and presenting these statistics, Amit, and I hope this will add to our collective understanding of why accessibility is important. I also hope more people will take notice.

    How many of our users require accessible content? ALL of them! It remains to be seen how many more of us will incur early onset vision loss after longterm daily exposure to computer screens of all kinds. It can’t be good for our eyes to peer for hours into a light source, but here we are. And many of us who create content and design for the web will be doing the same tomorrow, and next week, and on into the foreseeable future. When we think of the blind, or of people with low vision, we’d be wise to think about ourselves in 20, 30 or 40 years.

    If we all followed the basic principles of progressive enhancement, and nothing else, the WCAG guidelines wouldn’t be of much concern to anyone because accessibility would be practically assured. Some developers and designers do beautiful work that’s also quite accessible, while others embed valuable content in proprietary and inaccessible formats including Silverlight, QuickTime and Flash. Adobe touts PDF’s accessibility features, but rarely does anyone mention that PDF was created as a convenience for printers; its main purpose is visual rendering, and Adobe has struggled hard to retrofit accessibility to that. I routinely use Acrobat to add accessibility features to documents. It’s a monumental pain in the * if the documents stretch out to 30 pages or more, while 10 times as much information rendered in HTML remains inherently accessible to everyone on all platforms.

    As long as anyone hires a javascript whizkid or a Flash developer to manage their primary content delivery, accessibility takes the back seat to coolness. But if accessibility is done right from the start, it’s just an invisible part of the delivery system. It’s too bad we don’t all understand that yet.

    • amit d

      Hi Jeff Seager, thanks for the appreciation and valuable comments. I hope that every website developer and designer understands the importance of adding accessibility.
      I can recall the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
      We should start changing our own website’s first to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.

  • A very good article. Are there also figures for how people with other types of disability use the web?

    One of the hardest discussions I’ve had recently at work is that accessibility is about more than just people who have sight or hearing problems. There are a lot of other groups, such as those with motor impairments or cognitive issues, as well as epilepsy (so flashing videos in the background of a site are a no-no in my view). Sadly, some users won’t get the benefits that progressive enhancement offers. If you have a cognitive issue or a learning disability, the layout of the site may be perfect and you can read and hear everything, but the language may be too complicated for you. As developers there’s not much we can do (beyond giving definitions for problematic words as tool tips, maybe?) but we could have the conversation with the content creators to let them know that their role is equally important as a developer’s in making sure the content is accessible. Things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism (with a literal interpretation of language) and many other conditions affect users, and a lot of people are likely to have more than one condition (e.g., dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome, autism and motor impairments and epilepsy).

    I agree with @jeffseager:disqus that applying a progressive enhancement approach, with a focus on “content first” principles, will go a long way towards making the web truly accessible but away from visual and hearing impairments we must not forget motor impairments, cognitive issues or conditions such as epilepsy.

    • amit d

      Thanks Karl Brown for the appreciation.

      This article can help you with your question.
      Even Google’s Web Accessibility Course included Accessibility only for blind, they skipped accessibility for Hearing Impaired and other types of disabilities.(dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, motor impairments). I hope these kind of articles and comments will help in creating more awareness. As mentioned in your comment, we can contact content creators to make content more accessible.

  • ronvandenboogaard

    A few years ago I worked on a couple of mini sites for a luxury car-brand. I brought up the matter of accessibility and the project manager goes: “You think blind people will ever drive our cars?” Case closed. I did a huge revamp of a banking-site. There we did everything possible to have it be as accessible as possible.
    So, as always, it is up to the business. And decent coding on the front-end will take you a long way.

    • amit d

      Yes @ronvandenboogaard:disqus , this happened with me too.
      I asked them to add accessibility feature, but received the following reply:

      “No need to add accessibility features and screen reader links on our website. Who will teach blind people to learn all these stuff (laughing). It’s beneficial to leave it.”
      Perhaps, we can do many things to help others. That should be our motive and thanks for revamping your banking website. I hope every other developer/designer did the same :)

    • Regarding the car-brand PM’s answer: true, blind or partially-sighted people do not drive cars. But they do use cars as passengers. Therefore they have their word to say about which one should be purchased or not. This PM has missed two points entirely: 1. car drivers are far from being the only decision-makers when it comes to buy a car (ask the kids!). And 2: a website, especially for these kinds of products, is not only about selling, but mainly about brand-building and trust.
      Imagine someone like Stevie Wonder (thinking of him because he could be a customer, considering his buying power), wanting to get a feeling about a few brands for his next limo. Which ones would give him a better first impression? The ones with totally unreadable sites for him? Very unlikely. Was it worth saving a few thousands bucks on accessibility if you repell this kind of customers? Probably not.
      So I would argue that although global statistics are useful, they should not be the only factor in the decisions. Sometimes, just one visitor can do more good (or harm) than 1000 others.
      That said, Amit, you did a great job collecting these statistics. It’s always quite hard to find them presented in a convenient way, like here.

      • amit d

        thanks for the appreciation @OlivierNourry:disqus

  • Accessibility is not just about blind – what about people with mobile, hearing, and learning disabilities? There are many online video and audio that are not accessible to millions of deaf and hard of hearing people, for example:

  • amit d

    Hi, I have mentioned your link above in one of my comments( great article). Google’s Web Accessibility Course included Accessibility only for blind, they skipped accessibility for Hearing Impaired and other types of disabilities.(dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, motor impairments)
    You can check the above shown statistics for Hearing Impaired users. I have included statistics from World Health Organization and other known sources.

    • Amit – actually, statistics for deaf and hard of hearing people are not accurate. There are actually 642 millions of us in the world: There are over 48 millions of them in USA aged 12 and older. Also, keep in mind that deafness is very stigmatized by society, so not every deaf/hoh person conceals their hearing loss.

      I know a lot about statistics about deaf and hoh as I’m deaf myself, have been participating in various organizations for deaf/hoh, and also have done a thorough research on it for my consulting services. I would appreciate that people not familiar with deafness trust my experience and expertise and not make assumptions about us. Even not all accessibility advocates are well familiar with deafness and also make wrong assumptions about us.

      Also, to let you know, the word “hearing impaired” is not favorable by many deaf and hard of hearing people and no longer used by local, national, and international organizations for deaf/hoh people: So we would appreciate it that you stop calling us “hearing impaired” and instead call us “deaf and hard of hearing people”. Thanks!

  • Stevie_D

    “Number of people (in thousands) blind, with low vision and visually impaired per million population”
    Talk about making the graphs confusing … what’s wrong with “Number of people (yadda yadda) per thousand population”? The numbers are exactly the same, but the text is simpler and doesn’t run the risk of people misinterpreting it by a factor of 1000.

    • amit d

      The kind of accurate and correct information/statistics WHO provides, I
      considered not to alter any of their captions. But, thanks for pointing
      it out Stevie_D

  • amit d

    Thanks for your valuable comments again. I had mentioned the same thing above, around 600 million suffering from hearing problems and 285 million suffering from low and no vision. Collected statistics from World Health Organization (WHO) Website as it is a reliable source which is accepted universally. Considering your information as correct, I’ll surely post it in my Blog/Website.
    I know many people suffering from Usher Syndrome, Retinitis Pigmentosis and they find difficult in reading Website’s content. Anyways,I’ll keep your points in mind for my future articles. I really appreciate the kind of efforts you’re doing with your experience and expertise. Thanks for creating awareness.

    • Sveta

      Amit – the word “suffered” is detested by people with disabilities. We are disabled nit because of disabilities, but because of physical and attitudinal barriers by society that could be easily removed. It sounds like that you do not know enough about accessibility – I would advise you to take time to learn more about it and let other experienced accessibility specialists to write about accessibility to avoid spreading wrong information. Thanks!

  • Great article, thanks. I would add that those disabled people is not “somebody faraway”, but they rather are ourselves tomorrow, in a year, or in ten years. Our bodies don’t last forever, right? So we better get moving toward an accessible web sooner rather than later.

    • amit d

      Thanks for such great lines, appreciated.

  • amit d

    No one ever pointed me out regarding the usage of these words under Accessibility. But, I am focusing on your comments and learning more things about Accessibility. My next article on Accessibility will be according to your expectations. I’ll never use these words (“suffered” and “impaired”) in any of my Articles related to Accessibility. Thanks again for your advice and suggestions.

  • Jane parishoner

    Wow, rude much Sveta? Amit wrote a very good article and all you can do is berate him. Your attitude is a real turn off.

    • amit d

      thanks for the appreciation :)

    • devorahf

      I think it’s important to focus on the points she’s making. You’ve already mentioned that you find her rude. OK. In the words of Bruce Lee, “It’s like a finger, pointing to the moon. Don’t focus on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory.”

      I’d consider this article to be well-intentioned but the research is partially done (or partially reported) , at least as far as the disabilities themselves are concerned. From a world events perspective, it seems to be well done by documenting the legislation, and noting his personal experiences in India, a country that is significant to the tech world, and would greatly benefit from having as many people working and participating in the online world as possible.

      As far as “leaving it to the experts” I can’t entirely agree with Sveta on this one. I’d rather have had Amit interview a few experts in this area than stay out of it completely. (And I think she’s saying this logically, not attempting to be rude) If we’re always waiting for experts to step in, lots of work will never get done, and as a reporter, he wouldn’t improve. I see this as an opportunity, not a problem.

      I commend Amit for his efforts and am confident that he will review his training in research and use his superior writing skills for good measure.

      • amit d

        Hi @devorahf , thanks for your comment.
        Looking forward to learn more about Accessibility.The sole motive behind preparing this article was to create awareness regarding some incurable diseases and to visualize the importance of accessibility in websites.
        I request you to kindly read the last two topics of this article, “A social and legal issue” and “Future of Accessibility”.
        The article initiated with a lot of research work and as you know each and every point can’t be mentioned in a single article I consider that statistics create more awareness in the minds of people all over the world (not only India) and I hope this article helps website developers and users around the web.

  • Jane parishoner

    The rest of the world would appreciate it if you would get an attitude adjustment. You come off as rude and condescending.

  • Amit, again you built up a valuable resource for all those who feel concerned about accessibility. But I think there’s more to consider than just figures. If you allow me, I kindly invite you and your readers to read my blog post titled “How an accessible Web would change your life?”

    People with various types of limitations explain there how the Web empowers their life, or rather, how the inaccessibility of the Web prevents them from living as fully as they could. In the words of Nic Steenhout: “an accessible web would bring our impairments back to being impairments, rather than a non-accessible web making us disabled”. And insights of this kind, in my opinion, wheigh as much as any figure about the prevalence of this or that.

  • What a detailed report. Thanks for sharing