Web Accessibility refers to websites, browsers, and web technologies that are designed and developed with a focus on inclusivity. The web was originally conceived for conventionally abled individuals, whereas Web Accessibility ensures that navigating and interacting with the web is not only viable for all, but comfortable for those who may be differently-abled.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) notes, however, “disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions, ” whereas the goal of web accessibility is primarily concerned with auditory and visual impairments.
While there are many ways to implement web accessibility solutions, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the global standards organization for today’s web. W3C has published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that sets the industry standard, acting as a guide to modern web accessibility.
WHY IS WEB ACCESSIBILITY IMPORTANT?
Bigger Addressable Market
The internet is the world’s primary source of information; it is of the utmost importance that everybody is able to access it. There are over 4.5 billion users on the web, while, according to WHO, about 15% of the world’s population live with some sort of disability. These numbers imply a plethora of users who may struggle with various aspects of internet use. Disabilities can be permanent (such as certain birth defects,) temporary (for example, a broken finger,) or situational (not hearing your phone ring in a crowded concert). Ignoring web accessibility could mean cutting access to many potential users and paying customers. If we pay attention to inclusive design and development for the web, we can bridge an important gap, making sure all potential users have access.
Beyond being the right thing to do and increasing your addressable market, there’s a legal reason to have an accessible website. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990. While ADA did not specifically mention the internet, numerous legal interpretations and court rulings indicate at least some ADA requirements apply to the virtual world.
Title III of the ADA, for example, requires that public accommodation be provided to disabled persons in a manner that allows for the “full and equal enjoyment” of the privileges, goods, services, advantages and accommodations as those provided to able-bodied persons. Businesses are responsible for making sure those accommodations are made with “reasonable modification.” Any business not providing for that accommodation may committing a form of unlawful discrimination, as stated in 42 U.S.C. section 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii).
A recent example of a business being sued over an inaccessible website is Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, Inc.. The US 9th Circuit court reaffirmed a ruling that Domino’s could be held liable for violating the ADA by not having an accessible website.
THE CURB-CUT EFFECT
Accessibility-oriented enhancements frequently turn out to be useful for all users, whether or not the users are conventionally abled. The curb-cut effect describes this phenomenon. The phrase was popularized when designers noticed pedestrians using a sidewalk feature originally created for wheelchair bound pedestrians. In this instance, conventionally abled pedestrians opted to use sidewalk ramps (i.e. curb-cuts) when they had bikes, strollers, heavy grocery carts, or were otherwise encumbered.
In “The Best iOS Accessibility Features Everyone Should Use,” power-user Lifehacker blogs about multiple features Apple specifically developed in order to enhance iPhone usability for disabled individuals. Lifehacker shows how these features are helpful to all users, regardless of ability, outlining several digital examples of the curb-cut effect.
Improving your ranking in Google is yet another reason to focus on web accessibility. While Google’s ranking algorithm is often perceived as unknowable and complex, the primary factors that control search results are in fact simple: authority and relevance. Authority is mostly determined by how many popular, relevant sites link to the site in question. Relevance refers to queues Google uses to determine if site content would be meaningful as a search result for a given query. In judging relevance, Google needs to know what a site is about. While Google’s web crawlers can read a site’s text with relative accuracy, they can’t yet reliably understand the content of images. Accessibility features designed to help the visibly impaired are simultaneously very useful to Google’s crawlers, helping them better understand a page, which ensures the best possible ranking.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Web accessibility shouldn’t just be a priority for developers, but for designers, QA, backend engineers, and product managers as well. Since websites usually start with a wireframe design, it is most effective to lay the groundwork for an inclusive website at this initial design stage. This way, it is easier to catch early biases and immediately set up your website for inclusivity and success.
Microsoft offers a handy inclusiveness design portal with a variety of resources for those looking to expand their knowledge on accessible design. This Cards for Humanity tool is a great way to start thinking about various types of limitations you might want your site to account for.
STEPS FOR DEVELOPERS
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which set the industry standard for web accessibility, hold four main principles. These principles are referred to as POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
- Perceivable: How users process information on a website
- e.g. Can those who are visually impaired perceive the content of an image?
- Operable: How users navigate the website and its functionality
- e.g. Can a user who struggles with a mouse pause a video with their keyboard?
- Understandable: How simple it is for a user to operate the website and intuit the flow
- e.g. Will a form easily indicate if the user missed filling out a field?
- Robust: Can the user experience the website through a variety of mediums, including assistive technologies, without having to compromise?
- e.g. Can a user with a screen reading Chrome add-on access the same content a conventional visitor can?
Other guidelines to take into account as a developer include keyboard controls, color contrast, semantic HTML for correctly intentional element tags, and ARIA labels for describing an element with no text.
Since the web is integral for accessing information, as well as heavily relied on for connection and community, Web Accessibility should take priority with each iteration of web development. Accessibility should be constantly reworked and improved to provide access to everyone who needs it. We believe that accessibility will soon be considered a must-have for every minimum viable product (MVP,) rather than seen as an optional upgrade.
Creating an accessible web is the right thing to do, and improves the cyberspace experience for all users.