Website Accessibility: What You Should Know
This post was originally published on the Sanmita Blog.
The accessible web means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web. This encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. But web accessibility also benefits others, not just those with disabilities, including people with “temporary” disabilities such as a broken arm, older people with changing abilities due to aging.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Its effects are visible in nearly every public space in the form of disabled parking, ramps as alternatives to stairs, Braille signage, and more. Although the need to provide disabled people with reasonable accommodations has been a civil rights issue for decades, one important public space — the Internet — has been largely overlooked up until now.
The average adult spends nearly 20 hours per week on the Internet. The web is an important resource. It’s used in education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. You can see how it would be important that the web be accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, most websites and web software have accessibility barriers that make it difficult for many people with disabilities to use the web. If you’re not among the more than 640 million people worldwide who live with a physical, visual or hearing impairment, you may not have even given a thought as to what it would be like to experience the challenges a disabled person faces everyday when they try to use the same online tools so many of us take for granted.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is responsible for setting the international technical standards for the Internet and its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have become the most widely known standards for Internet accessibility. However, there is little legal governance to help ensure that the web and other digital technology is accessible by people with disabilities. Regardless of legal responsibility though, we have a moral responsibility to provide equal opportunity and encourage participation in the online world.
A new UN website recreates the experience of people with disabilities if a website is not made accessibility. It’s an eye-opening window into the frustrating reality faced by so many users. This new site offers resources and practical advice to help enhance the experience of the site for everyone. Remember, on an accessible website, the user is put at the center of the experience: text is more readable, content is better organized, and the design is usually clean, simple, and appealing to site visitors.
In truth, it benefits you to have an accessible site. High SEO rankings start with web accessibility and getting proactive on accessibility can have a very positive impact on a company’s customers. Estimates suggest that companies can expect to pay about 10 percent of their total website costs just to retrofit for accessibility compliance. This doesn’t even include potential costs of legal actions initiated by disability rights groups to remove barriers to website accessibility, such as the cases involving Netflix, among others. The message: catch accessibility issues early.
There are more than 61 individual elements of an accessible site, but the WCAG divides these into three distinct levels — A, AA, and AAA — depending on the impact the impact each element can have on someone with disabilities. It’s advised that brands play closest attention to Level A and AA conformance, as WCAG considers these to be the minimum level of support a site should maintain:
- Maintain compatibility — Compatibility ensures that your content works within different browsers and assistive technologies
- Adaptability — Designers should develop content that can be presented in simpler layouts without losing information
- Allow for alternate navigation — Physically impaired visuals may not be able to navigate a site using a mouse. An accessible website should be able to be navigated with a toggle joystick or through a keyboard.
- Text alternatives — Visually impaired site users can’t read website content the same way non-impaired users can. Site designers need to make sure that all non-text content has text alternatives that can be understood by assistive technologies like screen readers
- Be distinguishable — 1 in 8 men and 1 in 200 women suffer from color blindness. An accessible website ensures that color isn’t the only means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response or distinguishing visual elements
It’s a lot to manage, but there are testing tools that can scan content and catch the “low-hanging fruit” of accessibility errors:
- Contrast Ratio — This tool is useful for designers or for PMs spot checking color contrast. Enter the background color on one side, the text color on the other, and this tool will give you a value indicating the contrast ratio for those two colors.
- capybara-accessible — This tool is especially useful to those involved in QA or development. Capybara is a web-based automation framework for creating functional tests that simulate how users would interact with your site or application. This test-driven development tool integrates rules into a capybara script to help you capture existing failures and prevent future regressions.
Contact Sanmita today to start a conversation about website accessibility and how to make your site more useful to more people.
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