An overview of web accessibility, how it affects your users and why you should take it seriously.
In my attempt to learn more about web accessibility as a web developer, I will be creating a series of short blog posts where I will be sharing some of my findings.
This post is the first one in the accessibility series where I briefly introduce the topic and different ways people interact with web content. Also I give some reasons why you should consider investing time in web accessibility and how beneficial it can be for your business.
So what is Web accessibility?
If you have been involved in a web development project you might have heard of the term Web Accessibility. In a nutshell, the idea is to have the web equally available to everyone and have the services usable by all the possible users. One way to put it according to Wikipedia:
Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.
Let me give you some perspective on how diverse the usage of web is. Let’s have a look at some of the scenarios of how people may use the internet…
Examples of users with permanent disabilities
A young teenager who is deaf and partially blind, uses sites like the public transportation online services. She needs to magnify the text to be able to see since she partially sees the screen so she utilizes magnification software. On other occasions she uses a screen reader to read sites and have it printed on a Braille device.
An experienced employee with a repetitive stress injury, he finds it painful to use a mouse and to type for extended periods of time. After a lot of practice he learned how to use an ergonomic keyboard without a mouse. He also utilizes voice recognition software and touch screens on his computer and mobile phone.
When we hear the word disability we always picture the extreme cases: blindness since birth, permanent paralysis, completely deaf, etc.. While these are cases you should keep in mind while building your service, a lot of disabilities are more subtle, sometimes temporary, and most of us have them in a way or another. Disability categories are not only limited to permanent/semi-permanent disabilities but also temporary disabilities are included.
Accessibility also matters to you if…
- You are scuba diving.
- You wear glasses.
- You are colorblind.
- You are left handed.
- You are pregnant.
- You have a limb for more than two days.
- You are on cold medication.
- You are drunk.
Here is a common example, think of an online shopper with a common colorblindness disorder of red and green color. To them both colors look brown, which makes it difficult for him to figure out required fields in input fields. Another challenge to them is e-commerce shops that have untitled colors options of clothing, which is surprisingly common in some shops.
When we are developing our web services, we should keep in mind that we would not only support IE but also make sure our services actually work using these devices as well:
- Keyboard commands
- Screen readers to read web content out loud or print it on a screen
- Magnifying software
- Voice recognition to give input
- Touch screens.
Reasons to take web accessibility more seriously
So now that you know what is the idea behind web accessibility and how different people may access your service differently. Lets talk a little bit about the actual business value for having an accessible online service so you can convince your boss to invest in web accessibility!
In terms of the numbers of users, we are talking here about roughly 57 million Americans according to the U.S. Census Bureau and close to one billion people worldwide. According to Shopify people with disabilities spend annually around 30 billion US dollars annually. So if you have an eCommerce service of some sort, you definitely increase your sales when you have a well accessible site.
When we optimize our site to be accessible by screen readers, we are automatically optimizing for web crawlers and search engines to crawl our site. On a high level the idea is quite simple, both screen readers and search engines work in a similar way to read your site. The more information available about your website for search engines to crawl, the higher the search engine rank of your website. There have been multiple cases of companies developing their site to be more accessible and experiencing a noticeable increase in the search engine-generated traffic.
In general, an accessible website offers a lot better user experience not only for users with disabilities but for everybody. Nowadays. user-experience is one of the key factors for any business to grow and be successful. Some of the most successful companies such as Amazon and Netflix do so well because of their truly user-centeric approach towards developing their services. When a website is designed and coded with accessibility in mind, its always easier to use the service. Whether you are after more users or higher sales revenues, accessibility and user experience are definitely the way to go.
So if you still need a bit more convincing, lets talk about regulations…
In some cases, you are subject to large fines if your service is not compliant with web accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0 rules. That is true especially for those of you who are working on a project for the public sector or some enterprise that has public facing business. The required level vary from country to country, but it seems that more regulators are moving towards the direction of demanding WCAG 2.0 Level A/AA for some of the bigger companies.
In 2006 The U.N. in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities declared equal access to “information and communications technologies” as a basic human right. Around the world governments are passing different laws to ensure that private sector sites, schools and municipalities are offering the basic level of accessibility for their web services.
Hopefully by now you have enough reasons to motivate you to take the effort to ensure that your website is accessible. In my future posts I will be covering different techniques on how to make your websites more accessible, and some tools that I found helpful to debug websites for accessibility issues.