Most of us take Internet access for granted. It’s easy and fast to connect using our smartphones, laptops & desktops, tablets, etc. But have you ever thought about the fact there are people who may have trouble accessing the Internet? There are millions of people with disabilities that make navigating the web more difficult. This means millions of people aren’t able to comfortably use the information they need on the web—the same information we take for granted with our easy access.
What is Website Accessibility?
This is web accessibility becomes important — it makes sure that people with disabilities are able to access the Internet and have the best possible web experience on websites. Web accessibility uses standards that ensure the Internet is easily accessed by most people.
Accessible websites help people who can’t:
- Use a mouse
- Hear or see a video
- See images and text
- Focus on the information on the page
Think about it for a minute. How would you access the net if you were unable to utilize a mouse, see text, etc.? The Internet becomes pretty much useless. These users with disabilities miss out on all the benefits the web has to offer, because many sites are not user-friendly for these people.
Types of Disabilities
We don’t often stop to think of the types of disabilities that make it hard for people to live, let along navigate the Internet. Some of the most common impairments include:
- Reduced ability to hear
- Reduced or total inability to see; some people have trouble perceiving color contrasts
- Seizures, in conditions such as epilepsy, may cause seizures in some people due to flashing lights
- Reduced or total inability to make precise movements (difficult to manage a mouse or keyboard, for instance)
- Cognitive disabilities, such as dementia and dyslexia, can make it challenging to access the web
Assistive technologies can help some people get around these impairments, but it’s still important to make sure a website is accessible to these devices.
The Digital Divide
When disabled people are unable to use the Internet, they suffer from the lack of experiences, opportunities and more that non-disabled people enjoy on a regular basis. For instance, if you see a job opening that asks you to apply online, you can easily get this done. On the other hand, someone who’s blind or has other vision issues is unable to see the application and fill it out.
Many of these people are also unable to use the web to connect with loved ones, take online courses, work online, etc. They’re also not able to contribute to the information online.
These are just a few examples of the digital divide that’s created when the web isn’t user-friendly for those with disabilities. Inequality develops, unless websites start to become more accessible for everyone.
Web Accessibility Benefits
What are the benefits of web accessibility? Let’s take a look:
1). User-friendly navigation: accessibility helps site visitors to use your site in a way that’s best for them. This helps everyone—including the disabled. Examples include visitors not having to use a track pad on their desktop when they’re rather navigate using the keyboard.
2). People with disabilities are a significant population: according to the Who, about 15% of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability, and of these about 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. That’s a substantial number of people. These people can make a difference in their own lives when they have easy access to the Internet. Consider, too, that people who visit a site that’s not easy for them to use will move on to other sites that do support the disabled. Not only can this hurt a business, but’s bad PR. Making your site more accessible gains business while enabling others to be more independent and contribute online.
3). Accessibility builds trust: making someone’s life easier is not only great for business, but shows compassion and care for everyone. For instance, consider how difficult it can be for disabled people to shop in the real world. Shopping online makes it much easier for everyone, while ensuring equal treatment and equal service without physical and social issues. A business’ reputation can grow, which increases brand loyalty and more.
Website accessibility is not governed by laws in most countries; however, there are web content accessibility guidelines to help web developers and businesses make their sites user-friendly for everyone. The most current set of guidelines was put out by the W3C in 2008. Here are the basic principles of WCAG 2.0:
- Perceivable: deals with people the senses people use when access the web: sight, sough, touch.
- Operable: covers action that people take when using a site: keyboard-only navigation, not setting time limits for site visitors and offering help if users make mistakes on web forms.
- Understandable: a site must have clear terms, simple instructions and explanations for anything that may be complex on the site. Sites must function in a way that visitors understand and anticipate, rather than using unusual or inconsistent functionality.
- Robust: the site must meet all recognized HTML and CSS standards, making the site robust for all types of tech, including web browsers and screen readers.
Web Site Accessibility Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Many businesses and web developers believe accessibility is too hard, but it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is a review and understanding of accessibility, planning and applying the required changes. Here’s a short list of things you can do to ensure your site’s accessible to everyone.
1). Make your site keyboard-friendly.
2). Make content accessible by using dynamic content.
3). Use Alt text on images
4). Use colors carefully
5). Use headers to structure content (provides ease of navigation)
6). Make sure all forms are designed with accessibility in mind
7). Enable resizable text
Designing or redesigning your website to make it accessible to all has many benefits for your site visitors and your business. It doesn’t have to be difficult and there are guidelines available to help you and your web developers create a beautiful, informative site easily accessible for all.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent a decade working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.