The World Wide Web has rapidly become the dominant Internet tool, combining hypertext and multimedia to provide a network of educational, governmental, and commercial resources. Much of its power comes from the fact that it presents information in a variety of formats and also organizes that information through hypertext links. Because of the multimedia nature of the web, combined with the poor design of some websites, many Internet surfers cannot access the full range of resources this revolutionary tool provides. Some visitors experience the following:

  • They cannot see graphics, because of visual impairments.
  • They cannot hear audio, because of hearing impairments.
  • They experience delays, because they use slow Internet connections and modems or equipment that cannot easily download large files.
  • They have difficulty navigating sites that are poorly organized with unclear directions, because they have learning disabilities, speak English as a second language, or are younger than the average user.

People use a variety of technologies to access the web. For example, a person who is blind may use a speech output system that reads aloud text presented on the screen. A person with a mobility impairment may be unable to use a mouse and may rely on the keyboard for web browsing. To create resources that can be used by the widest spectrum of potential visitors rather than an idealized "average," web page designers should apply "universal design" principles. This requires that they consider the needs of individuals with disabilities, older persons, people for whom English is a second language, and those using outdated hardware and software.

Consult the University of Washington's Designing Accessible Websites webpage for information and guidelines on designing accessible websites.