Websites and web tools need to be designed with accessibility in mind. This means that they must be correctly coded. Accessibility should take all potential users into account, including those with and without disabilities. Currently, many tools and websites do not meet accessibility requirements, thus denying a significant proportion of the population easy or any access.
Reasons for Prioritizing Website Accessibility
There are numerous reasons for prioritizing website and web tool accessibility. However, the overarching principle is that accessibility allows all potential users access, thus expanding the number of people who interact with a site. This makes good business sense, increases customer satisfaction across the board, and grows the brand, market reach, and innovation.
Websites that are accessible make use of various sensory channels over and above a point-and-click approach. For example, they offer keyboard control and navigation by voice. This grants access to both disabled and other users who prefer a multisensory experience.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stated that full web access is the right of every person, including those with disabilities. There are also legal regulations that must be complied with. This is further defined by international standards for web design. Thus, it is no longer a choice, but rather a necessity. 508 testing can provide the reassurance that a site complies with legal requirements.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is higher for websites that are accessible. In other words, these sites will feature nearer the top of a search engine and have more chance of being accessed, along with improved search returns, and costing less to maintain.
It costs less to design a website from scratch that meets accessibility criteria than to adapt an existing one. As early as the development stage, accessibility needs to be built into the site. Web technologies can reduce obstacles found in visual, audio, and print media.
It is not only people with disabilities who gain benefits from accessibility. Some groups with enhanced accessibility needs are older users, people in rural areas, and populations in developing countries. Ordinary, non-disabled users are also affected by accessibility barriers in certain contexts or circumstances. This includes users of mobile devices.
Statistics reveal that over 12% of the population in the US has disabilities. This is a huge target audience that market offerings can be aimed at, but not without attending to the accessibility of websites. Accessibility is vital for developers and businesses that choose to produce top-quality sites and tools and who do not want to prevent potential users from buying their products or using their services.
The web was created for everyone and its creator noted that it should be fully available to the disabled, regardless of their sight, hearing, movement, and mental capacity. IT should not discriminate against people with reduced hardware and software, those who speak other languages, any geographical area, and users with varied PC literacy skills.
Poorly designed websites limit the engagement of disabled people, whereas when these limitations are removed, it opens up the Web to users who struggle with activities in their daily lives. Accessibility should be incorporated with all the following impairments in mind: visual, auditory, speech, physical, neurological, and cognitive. The physical aspects involve the disabled who struggle with muscle control, such as being uncoordinated, experiencing tremors, having paralysis, stymied sensation, missing arms, and those who suffer from chronic pain like arthritis. This one example illustrates the difficulties that accessibility must make allowances for.
Many barriers impede web browsing and use by disabled persons. For example:
- It is difficult to manage a long section of text that is not broken up by headings, graphs, images, or diagrams. Page layouts should be clearly designed and easy to use without tricky methods of navigation being required.
- Media players and browsers need full keyboard support and the means to mute audio and animations.
- Sufficient time must be made available to complete online forms or make choices.
- Controls must have options other than text.
- Navigation aids must include visual and non-visual prompts and be simple and consistent. It should extend beyond using only color to distinguish between items.
- Alt text must be used with images, and descriptions of the same should be captioned or otherwise labeled or described in a nearby paragraph.
- Users must have the option to use a mouse or the keyboard as well as voice recognition.
- Podcasts must be accompanied by transcripts that can be read visually or by the system.
- Captions must be provided with videos and synced to match lip movements.
- A skip navigation feature must be added.
Some sites provide a secondary channel for their disabled users, but this alone does not ensure an equitable experience for these users. Secondary channels should be treated as primary so that they take these users into account.
Accessibility for Web Users without Disabilities
Users without a disability also tend to have a more positive experience when accessibility is kept in mind during website design. Accessibility features are needed for technology with smaller screens than a laptop or PC, such as mobile phones and smart television.
Aging populations find that their abilities decrease as they age and so accessibility, therefore, becomes more important for this group over time. Some people are put in the temporary position of having a disability, for example, an injured arm that must be kept immobile to heal. Voice recognition is useful in this scenario e.g. for navigation or sending an email.
For the average person, accessibility needs increase in certain situations, such as when there is too much or too little light that affects online visibility. A slow connection on the internet can result in users needing more time to access web pages and fill in information. Subtitles on movies increase accessibility when background noise prevents clear audio or when in a context such as a library where silence is enforced. There is also a need to highlight certain information from the providers’ perspectives where they want something to stand out.
All-in-all, accessibility is mandatory but also of value to the company and the individual. The company benefits from a higher SEO placement and more people who can use, and possibly purchase, from their website. Individuals have a much more rewarding experience and no one is excluded.