Website accessibility ensures everyone who visits your website has an equally productive and usable experience – regardless of physical or environmental limitations.
1: capable of being reached
2: capable of being used or seen
3: capable of being understood or appreciated
When your properties are accessible it means your websites, tools, and technologies are presented such that anyone can use them in the way that works for them. While it may seem like a headache for some to adjust their design or take a few extra moments to write alt text for images, going the extra mile has a multitude of organizational benefits, not limited to:
- Risk Mitigation & Compliance: Over 2,500 Web Accessibility Lawsuits were filed in Federal Court in 2020. It’s a list you don’t want to be on.
- Altruism: Simply put, it’s just the right thing to do; often, those living with disabilities benefit most from the availability of digital solutions.
- Improved CX: Better accessibility generally reinforces accepted UX best practices, which can lead to improved digital experiences and conversions.
In this blog we’ll cover:
- What is web accessibility
- Why it matters
- Five Common pitfalls
- Five Web accessibility quick wins
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility allows end-users with disabilities to access the information they’re looking for or perform a needed task on a website.
It exists to ensure all people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web. Per the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).
The W3C published the first version of web content accessibility guidelines (or WCAG 1.0) in 1999 and included basic guidelines such as “provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content” and “don’t rely on color alone.” Since then, the WCAG criteria has been expanded and clarified to make every digital property “perceivable, operable, understandable and robust” (WCAG 2.0, 2008). Most recently in 2018, WCAG was updated again in version 2.1 with a goal to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups:
- Level A criteria affect the greatest number of people with disabilities in the most significant ways
- Level AA criteria still have a significant effect on many users with disabilities but their effect is not as significant
- Level AAA criteria affect some individuals with disabilities but not with the same significance as the other two
The current standard for accessibility is to meet level A and AA.
Why Does Accessibility Matter?
At the beginning of 2021, the well-known sports apparel company Nike launched a completely hands-free sneaker, the “FlyEase”. The shoe is designed with a hinge to keep it open, waiting for one to insert their foot where the hinge will release, and the shoe will secure itself. This new technology is beneficial to those that struggle to put on their shoes for whatever reason that may be. The lead designer of the shoe, Sarah Reinertsen said that the shoe is not targeted exclusively to those that are disabled, it’s intended to also appeal to anyone that wants hands-free footwear.
Very often, as we design something to increase accessibility for a few we end up developing something that benefits many. Things like automatic doors, sidewalk ramps, or captions on videos all happened because of necessity for a few, and now many benefit.
Likewise, your website presents the same opportunity.
According to the CDC, 26% of adults (ONE IN FOUR!!) in the United States have some type of disability. These disabilities could be auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, or visual. Some are more obvious, and others you might never ever know someone is dealing with.
However, you shouldn’t think about web accessibility as just designing for people that have lifelong impairments. As people age, they have certain physical limitations, poorer vision, or worse hearing that we wouldn’t necessarily classify as clinical disabilities. Sometimes disabilities are temporary – for example, you slip on ice and break your hand as you catch yourself, impacting how you utilize your desktop or mobile device by putting a greater emphasis on voice commands. Sometimes disabilities are situational – your child falls while playing at the park and the glaring sun makes it more difficult for you to view your mobile screen and find the nearest urgent care or ER facility. Or they can be occupational – such as a field engineer who must access a job-critical application while wearing work gloves and protective eyewear.
We call these “environmental disabilities” – and designing digital experiences that are optimized and usable in all situations like those above is referred to as inclusive design.
Five Common Accessibility Pitfalls
A few of the common pitfalls we’ve noticed as we address web accessibility issues for clients are as follows:
- Lack of appropriate color contrast: A company’s branding colors— when applied to website elements such as text, might not meet the necessary WCAG requirements for color contrast. Also, lack of contrast to the text label of a button or other imagery can limit accessibility.
- Failure to use semantic HTML: Legacy websites might not use semantic HTML markup to give context to page elements—Without semantic markup, a browser is unable to determine which parts of the page are the header, footer, main content, article content, etc.
- Migrating legacy content: Legacy HTML from old websites or content may not conform to WCAG specifications— this requires content entry cleanup.
- Overlooking downloadable content: Downloadable files such as PDFs need to be accessible as well as web pages.
- Not using closed captioning: All videos should have captions. This is also one of those “inclusive” design elements as many people watch videos in areas where volume must be limited (ie: on a bus, etc.); audio should be transcribed.
While the above are notable pitfalls, testing your website with a screen reader like JAWS, NVDA, or VoiceOver is a helpful way to evaluate exactly where your content is inaccessible. It can also be invaluable to include end-users with visual impairments or other disabilities when usability testing your website. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, your local rehabilitation agency or university’s office of disability services may be able to connect you with some of their clients or resources to assist with testing.
Five Web Accessibility Quick Wins
As you avoid the common pitfalls, some quick wins to help you feel better and improve your website accessibility are as follows:
- Use clear, descriptive calls-to-action.
- Avoid vague hyperlinks such as “click here”.
- Use best practices for content hierarchy on a page, such as using headings (H1, H2, etc.), paragraphs, unordered/ordered lists correctly.
- Include alt text for images that contain text so they can be read via a screen reader.
- Make sure all pages have unique titles.
Getting Started With Web Accessibility
Whatever digital property or project you’re working on, designing for accessibility is a worthwhile and legally required investment that should not be overlooked.
If you’re interested in assessing or improving your website accessibility, we’d love to talk.
Learn more about how we help clients routinely check their web performance and accessibility with our Monitor Service Plan.