What is Website Accessibility and Why Does It Matter?

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By Boris Dzhingarov

When building a website, most people think about things like how and where to put calls to action, which keywords to use, and design elements like color schemes and pictures. But very few understand how important it is to make their site accessible to everybody, including people with disabilities. Many will also be surprised to know that there could be legal repercussions to not having an accessible site. If you have never truly cared about website accessibility or don’t know what it means, let’s take a look at what website accessibility is and why it should be a priority to you.

The Web and Disabilities

Did you know that over one billion people on the planet have to deal with some sort of disability? Everyone can develop a disability too. Many of us will start developing disabilities as we age. Some of us may lose our eyesight or mobility and would technically be disabled. Disabilities can also be temporary, like someone with a broken arm, for instance.

Disability is a very broad term, which means that you will have to look at many factors when building an accessible site. Someone with poor eyesight may need bigger fonts or higher contrast. Someone who’s blind will probably be accessing your site through a page reader, and your page has to be optimized for those.

People who are deaf or have poor hearing have to be able to access audio content through alternatives. You also have people with particular conditions like epilepsy who are sensitive to flashing images. These are all things you’ll need to consider when building an accessible site.

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Why is Accessibility so Important?

Accessibility is important because it’s a human right – it’s as simple as that. But if that’s not enough to convince you to provide the best experience for everyone that comes on your site, know that there are laws that will force you to do it.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed back in the 90s but it didn’t have provisions for websites until recently. This is because the web wasn’t as developed as it is today. Title III of the Act states that private and public-facing businesses in 12 categories have to make their site accessible, including entertainment, recreation, sales, service establishments, and more. If your site is deemed inaccessible, you may be forced to redesign it in addition to compensating the other party.

Many territories around the world also have disability laws. In Canada, four provinces have accessibility laws in effect, which are: Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. Many EU member states also have accessibility laws in effect.

As well as this, you should know that all businesses that have more than 50 employees will now be mandated to have websites that are compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. And if you think these are not being enforced, think again.

The Domino’s Pizza Case

In 2019, Domino’s Pizza made the news because a blind man claimed that their website was not accessible through his page reader. Domino’s brought the case to the Supreme Court and lost.

The financial impact of the settlement was not the only issue there. The brand also suffered damage as a result, and some people with disabilities may decide to never spend a cent with them because of how they treated the defendant. Not to mention people who may know others who are suffering from disabilities or are sensitive to the issue.

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The Financial Impact of Not Having an Accessible Site

You should also know that there are some real financial repercussions to not serving people with disabilities. They account for about 20% of people who use the web, so that’s a lot of people you may be missing. This is why you need to take steps today to make your sites as accessible as possible. Here’s how you can start.

Use an Accessibility Tool

The first thing you should do is use an accessibility tool. These will allow you to quickly fix major issues so you can start working on specific design elements. Some of them will use AI technology to sniff out potential problems and fix them.

Use the Right CMS and Theme

You should also consider switching to WordPress if you haven’t already. It’s by far the best when it comes to accessibility. You also have to pick an accessible theme. Thankfully, this is something you can check out in the theme’s documentation. Do the same thing when looking at plug-ins and add-ons.

Make the Site Keyboard Friendly

A lot of people are not able to use a trackpad or a mouse. Many can only access websites using arrows and the tab key using something like a mouth stick or a single-switch input. The tab key can be used to jump to blocks of content and that is something that you’ll have to think about when structuring yours.

The content should be properly broken down and the tab order has to match the visual order so users can logically navigate through content. Long pages should have jump lists that allow people to quickly skip to relevant content. You should also provide a “skip to main content” link at the top of every page so they don’t have to tab through every single navigation element first.

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Use Alt-Text

Alt-text is also very important. The visually impaired need to have a way to know what an image is about. The only way to do that is by using descriptive alt text. If you have plenty of images, there are apps like Bulk Auto Image Alt Text or Update Image Tag Alt Attribute that can help.

Use Color Carefully

We have already talked about the importance of contrast, and if you don’t know how to set the perfect contrast for your site and pictures, many tools will allow you to evaluate it. But you also have to deal with people dealing with color blindness. So, don’t rely too much on colors for demarcation and use other tools such as symbols and white space to organize content.

Accessibility is very important and not something you can neglect. If helping others isn’t enough of an incentive, know that you run the risk of facing severe repercussions, so act immediately.