Take a minute to think about your favorite websites. What is it about the design or functionality that makes them stand out? Why do you find yourself going back to them on a regular basis? More than likely, a combination of the design, flow, quality of the information provided, and ease of use all contribute to your preference of one particular site over another. Web accessibility takes those powerful elements and elevates them, to ensure that all users, including those with disabilities, can navigate your favorite website with ease.
Consider a business like McDonald’s having handicap-accessible doorways; a public elevator with braille on the buttons; public bathrooms having proper safety bars and larger stalls for patrons. Web accessibility adds increased functionality to the online world in the same way that accommodations such as larger doorways, extra railings, and wheelchair ramps add increased functionality to the physical world.
Do I Really Need to Worry About This for My Website?
According to the U.S. Census, people with disabilities represent more than $200 billion in discretionary spending “spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship.” Regardless of who your target audience may be, the odds are good that disabled individuals are part of that key group of potential customers. If you don’t take the steps to ensure your website is accessible, you could be missing out on a very large, savvy group of consumers. And this isn’t just the case in the United States. The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), based in the United Kingdom, reports that there are 3.5 million people with disabilities in the U.K. workforce, equalling 46.5% of workers.
Beyond the legal and ethical reasons of why web accessibility compliance should be a measurement of your website’s success, it’s important to recognize that an emphasis on web accessibility will help to expand your customer base, offering increased access to your information, services, and products.
Additionally, making your website accessible also allows for individuals of a more advanced age (who may need larger text, for example), or people without access to a fast internet connection, an opportunity to be exposed to you, your brand, and your message.
There are 46 million Americans aged 65 or older – and that number is expected to jump to 98 million people by 2060, according to the Population Reference Bureau. In the UK, the DLF reports that there are 11.8 million people 65 or older, a number that’s expected to rise by more than 40 percent over the next 17 years. That is a significant portion of the potential consumer base, who should be able to easily access information that you or others are adding to the web.
What Constitutes Accessible?
Considering accessibility as part of your overall website design and approach is a significant step; one that puts you ahead of many other companies.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that works to develop web guidelines. This group has developed internationally recognized standards, called The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, that will provide support as you look to accommodate users with disabilities.
The web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.
The guiding principles of this document are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (POUR). POUR was developed to help better understand your users. Perceivable is the practice of thinking about what senses people use online. Operable is concerned with usability. Understandable is focused on the coherence of the content, and robust references the reliability of your site.
Once these factors are in place, you’re well on your way to developing an accessible website.
How Can I Be Sure I am Reaching Users with Disabilities Effectively?
Whether you are developing a new site or you want to enhance the accessibility of a current site, it’s never too late to audit your website. It’s important to determine that people can see and understand the information that you hope to disperse.
There are many things to consider as you audit your website or begin designing your new site. The starting points listed below are a great place to begin. However, this list is not fully comprehensive and is meant to help you start thinking about the various elements involved in a truly accessible website.
- Do you have good page titles that tell the user what is on the page? This also helps with navigation as users move through browsers.
- Are titles unique enough that pages and sections are easy to distinguish?
- Are your titles written well with the most important information in the forefront?
- Are titles found in the window title bar?
- Do your headings have a meaningful and obvious hierarchy?
- Are you using only visual headings, or do you have a true organization that is easy for all users to follow?
- Are the headings properly linked to take users around you site?
Images and Multimedia:
- Do you have alt-text that describes images for users who can’t see images?
- Are your videos and audio files clearly labeled?
Do you have sufficient color contract between your text and background? This is an important accessibility consideration to accommodate individuals with color-blindness.
Is your website too bright? This could prevent some readers from being able to read it.
The general minimum contrast is understood to be at least 4.5:1.
- Is your text readable? Can it be resized by the user?
- Do you have a zoom option?
- Is your keyboard navigation properly set up? Some users are unable to use a mouse or trackpad and must use keyboard navigation instead. Do shortcuts work?
- Can your drop-downs be used with just the keyboard?
- Can you play video and audio using your keyboard?
Now that you realize just how important website accessibility is, both financially and socially, your next step is to decide if you have the expertise, time, and patience to make the necessary fixes, or if you need the support of an expert.
The investment in a well-built, fully accessible website will pay off many times over. In fact, Forbes reports that having a poorly functioning site could actually hurt your business.
So imagine building your own website and never even considering the things listed above. It could actually hurt your image with the exact consumers you are trying to reach. You could even be icing yourself out of a huge segment of the population who would likely be interested in what you have to say.
Consider the last time you needed information on a new business. What did you do? You Googled it. And if that company website was difficult to read, hard to navigate or inconsistent in design, you likely moved on. While these same elements are often evaluated by both disabled and non-disabled users, the method of evaluation, and the effect an inaccessible website has on the user experience, will be dramatically different. That’s why it’s so important to consider accessibility a fundamental element of your website.
Now let’s consider users with disabilities. Your site doesn’t have text to describe pictures. Your videos are hard to follow. Your graphics have poor contrast. Do you look like a company that cares about its customer, and most especially those users who may need additional support? All you’ve done is create doubt. In fact, business.com reported that 75 percent of consumers they surveyed judge a business’ credibility on their website design.
When making business acquaintances, seven seconds is all you have to make a first impression. In the case of websites, the time window is much stiffer, less than 0.2 seconds, according to an eye-tracking study by the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Take this opportunity to make a good first impression, support your potential users, and expand your overall footprint, by upgrading your website to reach all potential consumers.