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Universal Accessibility: A New Conversation About Web Accessibility

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Time we fixed the web for everyone with dyslexia.

Hundreds of millions of people can't access all the benefits of the internet. Dyslexia, visual impairments and literacy issues impact around 15-20% of people. The result is that the internet is a challenging environment to navigate. Making the internet fully accessible - the most universal, advanced, democratic communication tool ever created - is an important issue. Barriers to entry shouldn't exist. The accessibility technology sector should be focusing on creating, and promoting, solutions for this market. That isn't always the case. The problem is that many accessibility companies seem intent on lobbying governments to lower those barriers, instead of developing better solutions to overcome them.

It's time we changed this. It's time the accessibility sector takes a leaf from entrepreneurs, the arts, and successful advocates. Promoting the dyslexic advantage, like Virgin Group Founder, Richard Branson, and delivering effective solutions is infinitely more beneficial than reframing the issues. Most of the sector talks about what isn't being done, why more should be done, and what could be done. This approach has yielded few results. Some corporations have been sued over their websites failing to be accessible, which are cited as examples of litigation having an impact. The real result has been a handful of out of court settlements. The web is still a challenging environment for hundreds of millions of people. Legal action is not the solution. We need a new way forward.

A Kauffman Foundation study found that as many as 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Like Sally Gardner, the author of the Costa Children's Book Prize 2012 winner, 'Maggot Moon', most entrepreneurs treat dyslexia is a gift, not a disability. The film director, James Redford, produced 'The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia', in order to raise awareness about the truths of dyslexia. "We judge people in our society on how quick they read and write, not necessarily by how good their original ideas are - that comes later in life," Redford said in an interview.

The Congressional Dyslexia Caucus, in Washington DC, was formed by Peter Stark (Republican - retired) and Bill Cassidy (Democrat) to give political weight to dyslexia advocates and developers of assistive technology. The caucus brings together representatives from both sides of the house. Stark and Cassidy want to tackle the same negative myths which prevails around dyslexia, especially where education is concerned. In Europe, the EU Commission has issued a draft directive to ensure all 761,000 public sector websites "are made accessible" by 2015. This would benefit 100 million EU citizens. The move has been welcomed by the accessibility sector, which the Commission feels has so far only reached 10% of its potential.

We live in an age of innovation, with technological advances progressing at a rate which is unprecedented in human history. Solutions already exist which would fix the internet for those with dyslexia. There are innovative, award winning, web products, like Recite, which read websites and online documents out loud, and include numerous features which fix the internet for anyone who currently struggles online.

Mainstream adoption is the next step. Websites everywhere could easily be made accessible, without developers and technical overhauls. Modern accessibility software can be deployed from the cloud, providing an instant fix on any device. We are so close to being able to fix an internet which is still broken for hundreds of millions of people. Lets come together to fix this, once and for all.