Accessibility is fascinating
Web developers often forget or avoid the accessibility of websites. But with some insight it does not cost much extra work and it even offers surprising benefits.
Accessibility. Threshold-free. As an experienced front end developer, you’ve heard about it a few times. But what exactly is it? Something about blind people who can not use your website, right? You feel blatantly guilty that the subject is of little interest to you. So to get rid of those feelings, go to your management: if you can make it their problem, you no longer have to worry, right? But what does management say? “You’re right, we have to do something about it. Go ahead and figure out what exactly needs to happen. “
This is exactly what happened to me very recently during a freelance job. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. When I started, I saw accessibility as a difficult, vague subject. I associated it with outdated government rules and ugly blocked websites. But what turns out? Accessibility is a fascinating topic!
I see a lot of parallels between accessibility and responsive design. With responsive design, you try to make your website suitable for as many devices as possible. Accessibility does exactly the same. The difference however being that you don’t just focus on the screen resolutions, but also on the input and output capabilities of each device. Is there any display at all? Or is your website read or printed in braille? Is there a mouse, or just a keyboard? Or should everything be served via voice commands?
Real world examples
Accessible means that everyone can use your website. And what target groups you need to take into account is an interesting topic in itself. For example, think of elderly users who suffer from memory problems, people with dyslexia or people who can not use a mouse because of RSI. Take a look at W3C’s Stories or Web Users story for stories about how people with different constraints use the web.
I can perfectly understand that you wonder how useful it is to spend a lot of time and effort in supporting what may be a small part of your visitors in practice. But these are the people who are very interested in well-functioning websites. So if your website is the only one in your industry that has good accessibility, you’ll suddenly become the go to site for a whole subgroup of your potential audience.
Imagine that large portions of the internet would be unusable for you. That greatly limits you to your possibilities in this modern world. No online stores, no streaming media. It might feel like you’re on the Internet with an old Netscape browser. Most sites work roughly, but so bad that it’s a hugely frustrating experience. How long would you accept this?
Fortunately, it is not difficult to offer all your visitors a well-functioning website. If you stick to HTML standards and best practices, your website is often already accessible out-of-thebox. But to add that extra piece of convenience, you need to work creatively. And that’s just a nice challenge.
Take the “alt text” for an image. You know, the text that the browser shows if your image can not be loaded. Some people with visual impairment can not see the image at all, but they can let their computer read the alt text. So if there is information in the picture that users need to follow the page properly, they will depend on your caption. Thinking what fits in with text is still not as simple as you would think. WebAIM even dedicates a whole article to this topic. I am sure to look up this article — it takes a lot of substance into consideration and has nice quiz questions between. For me, for example, I previously had never realised that you can also give too much information in the alt text, or there are situations where you should even leave the alt text empty.
Do you know who also reads your alt text? Google — Because of course they work with bots that also do not know what an image looks like. (Not at least — they are busy with it.) So, if you can write good alt texts, your SEO score will increase again.
That’s a pattern you see more often: Improving website accessibility makes you have additional benefits that are fun for all your visitors. This point is clearly demonstrated in a series of videos found on YouTube under the title “Web Accessibility Perspectives”. Take a look at that! The videos are well made and very interesting. The motto of these videos is “Accessibility: essential for some, useful for all.” I completely agree with this statement.