Can you imagine a world without the Internet? Without being able to book a flight online, bank online, or just search a site for your favorite hobby? Well, this is what people with certain disabilities face every day on the Internet. If I had my wish, the Internet would be accessible to all.
I'm the founder and CEO of FindAnyFloor.com, "The Web's Flooring Authority," and I am often asked why I created an information portal for the floor covering industry. My answer usually surprises people as it is not what they expect.
Last summer (2007), I was lying in bed searching the Internet for ideas for my next venture. For whatever reason, I came upon WebMD.com. Those of you not familiar with WebMD, it is a FREE medical resource for consumers and physicians alike. Coming from both a high-tech and floor-covering industry background, it immediately dawned on me: Where is the WebMD of flooring?
I spent the next couple of months searching the Internet with a team of professionals to discover what type of floor covering information was on the Internet and how it was presented to consumers and floor industry professionals. It soon became clear that there was a large void on the Internet in terms of unbiased, free information - in one central place - for flooring consumers and professionals. In order to find substantial and accurate information, one had to go through dozens of sites - and oftentimes these sites provided conflicting information!
The idea for FindAnyFloor.com was born.
Although what I've described was the catalyst for that idea, it is certainly not what propelled us to who we are today, and this is where we surprise a lot of people. While doing the necessary research to develop FindAnyFloor.com, I met a woman named Glenda Watson Hyatt at a high-tech trade show. She just so happened to be selling a book that she had written called "I'll Do It Myself." Due to complications during birth, Glenda has Cerebral Palsy which greatly affects her speech and mobility. She relies on her wheelchair for mobility and her keyboard for communication. Not only did I buy her book, I went downstairs in the convention center and read it in one sitting. I may have missed a few of the trade show classes, but the book gave me one of the most valuable educations I have ever received.
I, like many people, had no idea the limitations the Internet has with regard to people with disabilities. Those of us who are not disabled may take for granted that we are able to search most sites without issue, and at our own pace. Can you imagine if buildings no longer had handicapped modifications such as restrooms with wider doors and handrails, ramps, elevators, and braile? I couldn't. But this is exactly what most of the Internet is like for those with certain types of disabilities.
Imagine a world where you can't read what's on the Web. Or you can't hear or understand the sounds from video files because there is no closed captioning. Or you can't navigate through menus to other parts of a site. It would be like someone taking away your mouse and telling you to go to work! You have just experienced the way the majority of websites operate for those people with visual, hearing and mobility disabilities.
The U.S. government has a legal standard for their websites that states that they must be accessible to everyone. This standard is called Section 508. Although this standard doesn't apply to non-government, commercial websites on the Internet today, I feel strongly that more has to be done to make the Internet accessible to all. Isn't that the logical and compassionate way to go? This is why FindAnyFloor.com is committed to becoming 508 compliant by the end of 2008. It is our goal that others in the online flooring community will take note of the approximately 60 million people, in America alone, who have some type of disability that may affect the way they use the Internet.
Using the floor covering industry as our springboard, we are planning to launch a large green living website that incorporates all types of eco-friendly building materials as well as items used in everyday life. Our mission will be to create to the largest green site for consumers that will be accessible to all, again hoping that others involved in environmental pursuits will follow suit. Wouldn't it be great if the concept of creating accessible websites became viral!
In the next five years, let's hope we are looking at a whole new Internet, one that is created for everyone and is accessible to everyone.
About the Author:
Damien is the Founder and CEO of FindAnyFloor.com as well as several other technolgy businesses specializing in social media and search.