It’s not uncommon for a company to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more to design and develop a website. There are countless usability considerations that are taken into account during the process of building a site, but accessibility is an aspect of web design and development that is often given short shrift. The result is that the website your brand may have spent a huge portion of your annual marketing budget to build isn’t serving a significant portion of your potential audience.
Investing in website accessibility means developing ways to make your website equally accessible to people with disabilities as it is to those without disabilities. In this article we’ll make a case for why website accessibility should be a priority for all brands, and how to go about getting started.
Why accessibility matters
People who do not have disabilities may underestimate how challenging it can be for those with disabilities to access certain areas and elements of the web. Still, the onus is on web strategists, designers, and developers to build experiences that can reach as many users as possible, including those with disabilities. Here are a few reasons why web accessibility is something every business should be actively considering and planning for.
It’s an issue of equality
First and foremost, website accessibility is an equality issue. Designing an accessible website means you’re ensuring that everyone is given fair and equal access to site services and information. Accessibility means people who are vision or hearing impaired are not excluded from enjoying full use of everything the web has to offer.
There are legal implications
Though there is currently no explicit legal regulation of web accessibility requirements, many claimants have been successful filing lawsuits under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and is responsible for helping make more spaces and services accessible to those with disabilities. The law has been interpreted to apply to websites, which are considered “public accommodations”. Failing to meet accessibility standards (more on what those standards are below) puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
It improves usability and search engine optimization
There is some overlap between basic onsite search engine optimization and optimization for accessibility, though meeting accessibility requirements will require further strategy and implementation than optimizing for search crawlers does.
Accessibility is also a usability factor. Making your site fully accessible to all users can mean reduced bounce rates and higher conversion rates. Better usability is not only good for users, it’s good for your performance in organic search.
Making your website accessible for people with disabilities
As we mentioned above, there is no explicit legal regulation to specify what, precisely, a website must include in order to be considered accessible. That makes becoming accessible a bit tricky, but fortunately W3C provides a helpful list that is considered the current gold standard for web accessibility.
This list, called the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.0), is extensive, and we won’t get into the details of each point here but we cover some key web accessibility issues and solutions below:
- Documents - PDF and JPEG documents aren’t easily read by screen-readers. Make document downloads available in PDF and an HTML text-based format that can be read by voice assistants.
- Images - Web users with vision impairments will have difficulties viewing images. Create descriptive alt-text for images that can be read by voice assistive technology.
- Videos - Web users with vision impairments experience difficulties viewing video content and those with hearing impairments may have difficulty with audio tracks. Provide captioning, descriptions, and transcripts for video content.
- Color - Some vision impairments make it difficult or impossible to distinguish certain colors. Make sure functionality isn’t dependent on color and that the website is functional in the color set by the user’s browser or system.
- Text size - Many web users with vision impairments require larger text in order to be able to read content. Allow text to be enlarged without compromising website functionality.
For a more complete list of web accessibility recommendations, visit the W3C website.
Planning for the future
For all of the reasons covered above, It’s important to take the time now to retrofit existing website content to meet accessibility standards, but accessibility isn’t a process you do once and never return to. Once issues with existing content are addressed, brands should focus on making sure content is designed from the ground up with accessibility as a consideration. Evolving technology is also sure to bring better innovation around accessibility, so keep an eye on emerging trends that can enable people with disabilities to experience deeper interactions with web content of all different forms.