How Accessibility Can Benefit Your Website

Last Edited January 24, 2018 by Garenne Bigby in Accessibility Testing

accessibility benefits

Most people take surfing the web as a daily activity for granted. For those with disabilities, the internet can be and inhospitable place. It is very important for the Internet to be accessible for everyone- this is not only beneficial to the individuals with disabilities but also for businesses as well.


What is Web Accessibility and Why is it Important?


Accessibility on websites is when the design of the website is such that people can use it, specifically those people with disabilities. In short, it is to say that web accessibility means that those individuals with disabilities are able to perceive, navigate, understand, and interact with the web and they are also able to contribute to it as well.


It is extremely vital that the Internet be accessible because of the role that it plays in society today. It must provide equal access and opportunity to those with disabilities. When the Internet is accessible, many people with disabilities are able to communicate, interact, and create on the Internet much more easily than in the physical world.


When web tools, websites, or web technologies are designed poorly, they will create barriers that tend to exclude people from using the Internet. Accessible websites are important not only for individuals and society as a whole it is also important for businesses and governments.

The mission of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is to pave the way for the internet to be at its full potential and be accessible by all people, enabling those with disabilities to participate as equals on the internet. This will support social inclusion, bringing the internet to those that are older, live in rural areas, and even those in developing countries. It is not only beneficial for the users of the internet, but is has a strong case regarding business. Accessibility actually overlaps with some of the best practices of website design, such as device independence, mobile web design, usability, SEO, multimodal interaction, and design for older users. It has been shown by research that websites that are accessible have better search results, increased audience reach, and reduced maintenance costs.


What Are the Benefits of Becoming More Accessible on the Web?


When a website is accessible, it is often times the easiest way to do business with many individuals with disabilities. For example, those who cannot read printed material, those that find it difficult to get into a physical store, and more. Likewise, what a website does for accessibility often times overlaps with other beneficial practices like mobile website design, search engine optimization, and usability.

Websites that are accessible will work better for users that are older and have age-related accessibility needs. Seniors are becoming a vital customer base for many organizations and companies. This is because the percentage of older internet users is increasing significantly.

Sometimes, accessibility is required by law, and in some cases making the website accessible will reduce the risk of expensive legal action. Knowing and understanding accessibility will give web designers a competitive advantage that could be the factor that wins over potential clients.


accessibility website

 

The Types of Technologies Used to Make the Web More Accessible


Accessibility is mostly about designing internet browsers, websites, and other tools so that they function with flexibility in order to adapt to and meet users' needs. A prime example is that up until very recently, the most common web browsers did not enable zoom functionality. There have been settings to increase font size rather than absolute size, and it did not put text in images. When text is provided for images, there are screen readers that read the text aloud, so that the person is able to know what the picture is. When this sort of accessibility is provided, the information then becomes available to those who have visual disabilities, and even those who do not have image capabilities on their mobile phones. This would happen when someone would want to lower their bandwidth charges, or in rural areas that have low bandwidth. This information then becomes available to every person with access to the internet.

In some cases, individuals can't use a standard mouse, including older users that have limited fine motor control. A website that caters to accessibility would not rely on the use of a mouse. It would be able to provide all functionality by using the keyboard. This would enable those with disabilities to use the assistive technologies that would mimic a keyboard, like that of speech input.

For well-designed websites, they work cohesively with assisting technology, like screen readers. Screen readers will read out loud what is on the screen for those who cannot see well or at all, cannot process the written language, or have other disabilities. Screen magnification software is used for those who have low vision, head or mouth sticks are used with those who are not able to use their arms.

The basics of accessibility is easier and more cost effective than simply providing transcripts. Often times, the proper techniques are used but they are poorly integrated into the web tools, development processes, and education. It is vital for those that are curious about accessibility to take the time to educate themselves about not only what accessibility is, but how to successfully incorporate it. Website developers can even turn to authoring tools that support accessibility; this makes it easier on developers. In short, accessibility is necessary for developers and organizations that aim to create high quality sites and tools, while not excluding anyone from using their products and services.


Motivation to Improve Accessibility


There are many reasons to be motivated to improve accessibility on the internet. With websites that are accessible, those individuals with disabilities can do day to day ordinary things. Children are able to learn, teenagers have a medium to flirt, adults can earn an income, seniors can edit their stock portfolios, etc. With the internet, more people that have disabilities can do things themselves, with no need to rely on other people.

* Those who are blind are able to read the newspaper with the aid of a screen reader that reads text out loud from a computer.
* Those with cognitive disabilities are able take in this information if they are unable to process written information.
* Those who are deaf can receive real time news about what is happening, when this information was previously only accessible to those who could hear the television or radio.
* Those who are blind or deaf can access information through a dynamic Braille display now.
* Those that are quadriplegic, unable to move their arms or legs, are able to shop online for groceries, gifts, and gadgets and have them shipped right to their homes.
* Those that are unable to speak can take part in discussions online through blogs and comments.

When you truly understand how the internet can change lives, you can work to help make it accessible.

Incorporating Accessibility


The majority of websites that are around today are more accessible than they were 10 years ago. Many of the larger companies now include considerations for accessibility in their website development process. Despite this, it is sometimes too late in the process. One main problem with this is how the new technological developments are being formed and developed with no consideration for all potential users, thus becoming inaccessible initially. As a society, there is still a long way to go until accessibility is just seen as normal business as usual.

At this point in time, many website designers and developers have to hear about the need or accessibility, so they do not know much about it. In areas that there are laws that are related to internet and website accessibility, people are more aware of the internet accessibility standards. There are programs and the like that are dedicated to focusing on helping communities better understand what is needed in the way of human aspects of accessibility.

Accessibility is more than just being able to zoom in on a web browser. Those with physical limitations also need to be able to use the internet in order to keep some of their independence.

* There are auditory disabilities, meaning that someone has some sort of hearing impairment and cannot rely on listening to anything to accurately interpret it.
* Cognitive and neurological disabilities impact the ability to move, hear, speak and understand but does not necessarily impact the intelligence of a person.
* Physical impairments would even include joint problems and pain.

Chances are, that any given reader knows someone that is affected by one or more of these things in their life. It is not a small population like some people might think, and incorporating accessibility into the internet as much as possible will ensure that most of the population will be able to use the internet totally independently.

Accessibility Milestones


A very notable milestone came with the completion of W3C's WCAG (Web content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 at the end of 2008. This was developed through the W3C process which cooperates with individuals and organizations across the globe. This standard applies to more advanced technologies and has more clear criteria, while being more testable with precision. It also comes with a lot of supporting material and techniques that aid in understanding and implementing WCAG 2.

Other milestones include ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) for WYSIWYG editors, CMS (content management systems), software for blogs, and more. Other important times for internet accessibility include UAAG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines) for browsers, as well as some development around WAI-ARIA for Accessible Rich Internet Applications.

Increasing awareness for access to information and communication technologies is the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They also increase awareness for using the internet, which is a basic human right. There are varying accessibility policies around the world have done their part in raising awareness and establishing requirements for internet accessibility.

Common Accessibility Mistakes


Designers and developers encounter varying sets of mistakes while they are building a website.
Developers: leaving out alternative text for images, not marking up headers and lists in HTML (and then going on to use CSS for designing), requiring the use of a mouse to navigate the website (rather than making the functionality available through the keyboard), leaving out captions and/or transcripts for audio like podcasts or videos.

Designers: having an insufficient color contrast, imposing a static design for all users rather than allowing users to adapt a design to their own needs.

Designers and developers: not having the ability to understand the basics of how those with disabilities use the internet, so that they can make the website that they are designing work for everyone. Many times designers and developers that try to meet accessibility standards with no understanding of the basics essentially waste time and effort on solutions that are not the best ones for users.

The W3C and Facilitating Education

W3C pioneered the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in 1997 to bring up accessibility as part of the core work within W3C. Inside of W3C WAI is their Education and Outreach Working Group. They work to develop materials, presentations, and the like that are available online free for the taking. They are all available on the WAI website.

How to Get Involved with Internet Accessibility

Some people can get involved with accessibility through personal necessity, and some get involved through being educated about it. The power that the internet has to help people with disabilities of all varieties allows communication and work for those that would otherwise be without. The barriers that websites have can be broken down when they are properly developed to be inclusive of those with needs that are different than the majority of internet users.

Looking Forward

Ideally, internet accessibility would be fully integrated into internet tools, education, and processes. This would mean that all users, including those with disabilities, would be accounted for when website designers are working to develop websites, internet applications, internet authoring tools, web browsers, technical specifications, user agents, and other web technologies. This will be when everyone realizes the widespread benefits of an accessible internet.

 


 

 

Additional Resources:

Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List

Introduction to Web Accessibility

Web accessibility

Developing Accessible Websites

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder @dynomapper
Garenne Bigby is freelance Chicago developer and founder of DYNO Mapper with over 10 years experience in both agency and freelance roles in design, development, user experience, SEO, and information architecture.

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