According to the WHO (World Health Organization), there are 285,000,000 blind and visually impaired people in the world (June 2012), with 39,000,000 people categorized as legally blind and the remaining 246,000,000 people as visually impaired.
To put these numbers in perspective, the population of the United States of America is over 315,000,000.
Obviously from a business standpoint, these numbers are hard to ignore and even if industry is dragging its feet about investing in accessibility technologies, the law is prodding them along.
The US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 took the first steps toward making everyday life more accessible to Americans, and as digital media continues to grow in scope and importance, companies with a digital presence (pretty much every industry now) are becoming more and more inclusive. The ADA is making sure of it. While the Rehabilitation Act deals with government organizations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 broadens the accessibility mandate to non-governmental entities, such as corporations.
In 2008, the ADA was amended to specify that the Act covers anyone participating in major life activities. These include “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.”
It’s pretty clear that the ADA covers digital publishing in all forms. Although the Convention was written before the widespread use of ebooks and digital magazines, it covers any person’s conditions that new technology may affect.
The whole idea of “disability” is changing. Without regard to the cause of the barrier, ie: physical or cognitive, barriers that hinder the full and effective participation in society for anyone must be rectified. All people should be able to participate in society on an equal basis, and all information must be equally available when, where, and how any person wants to access it.
This ideal is nowhere near universally implemented, but things are changing for the better at an accelerated pace. As technology catches up with demand and becomes affordable, it just makes smart business sense to cater to as many people as possible. And the laws are a great motivating force for those unwilling to take the plunge.