Letter to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution
9 February 2000
The Honorable Charles T. Canady and the members of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution:
The HTML Writers Guild is writing to make it known that accessible web design is not an impediment to e-commerce, but rather an essential factor in the development and growth of the e-commerce infrastructure.
The HTML Writers Guild is the world's largest organization of web designers, with over 110,000 members in more than 150 countries. Founded in 1994 as one of the first associations of web authors, the Guild is the leader in providing peer-to-peer training, networking, and education for those who work the web. We are a non-profit educational organization offering a wide range of online courses that train our members in the craft of web design.
In addition, the HTML Writers Guild is committed to the creation of the standards and specifications that make the World Wide Web function, through our involvement with industry bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. Through our work on specifications such as the XML-based XHTML 1.0 language, we are actively working to build the infrastructure necessary for e-commerce to succeed in the 21st century.
The HTML Writers Guild is pleased to be taking a leadership role in education regarding standards-based web design through the creation of the Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education Center, and through our support for the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative.
Building an effective e-commerce system for today's heterogeneous Internet means that interoperability, platform-independence, and accessibility are integral parts of the web design process -- more than simply "accommodations" for people with disabilities. For e-commerce to function at all, accessible standards must be applied.
Creating an accessible web site, for e-commerce or otherwise, is not an incomprehensible arcane art. Rather, by simply following the established industry conventions on the creation of web pages, a web site can be rendered accessible by people with disabilities.
There are few extra costs associated with creating an accessible web site; in general, it's simply a matter of choosing to do it right rather than choosing to do it wrong.
By choosing the right way -- the standards-based, interoperable, platform-independent methods of web site creation endorsed by industry organizations -- an e-commerce site reaps many benefits, including compatibility with future versions of existing web browser software and with the large number of web-enabled phones and hand-held computers currently under development.
As physical curbcuts in sidewalks provide universal benefits to many people who use the streets, so too do electronic curbcuts benefit all Internet users, not just those with disabilities. By increasing the usability and accessibility of a site beyond merely desktop users, the market for e-commerce is greatly expanded.
It is also important for us to remember that many Americans with disabilities are among those who stand to benefit the most from an effective e-commerce infrastructure. The limitations faced by peoples with disabilities can be overcome if the web is used as it is intended -- as an empowering technology for everyone. As a society, we cannot afford to shut out certain groups of people from the new electronic society by widening the digital divide.
Other countries in the world have taken proactive steps to build accessible e-commerce infrastructures, and the U.S. risks falling behind as the leader in e-commerce if similar steps are not taken. For e-commerce to flourish, American commercial web sites must be made accessible to all and must exclude no one on basis of disability.
Kynn Bartlett, President and AWARE Center Director