Web Accessibility is Important. Here’s Why You Should Care
The ultimate guide to web accessibility in the modern age.
Accessibility. It’s important. In many ways, it’s a bit of a buzzword. But, what is it, exactly?
To most, accessibility involves making your platform, website, business, or whatever you’re working on, as friendly, reachable, and approachable as possible. Usually, we associate accessibility with a disability and disabled people, but accessibility is something that leaves an impact on everyone, disabled or not.
Accessibility can range from having your image tags correctly formatted for visually impaired users, to making your text and background colours to improve readability to people more generally.
As a web developer, it’s a frightening realization that everything I do can affect how accessible my website is.
Every function, every stage, every choice has a level of accessibility tied to it.
But in that same realization lies an opportunity. If I’m always considering how accessible my websites are, my websites will improve as a result. Web accessibility is an overlooked yet essential part of UX.
Disabilities Demographics and Users
I think I should start by clearing up what we mean when we talk about disability.
If you look up other resources on web accessibility, you’ll find people organizing disabilities into categories. This isn’t a great way to think about disability, and it stifles the way we view the disabled demographic as a whole.
First, I’d like to get one myth out of the way: that disabled people are a minority or a tiny portion of web users.
This simply isn’t true.
According to Interactive Accessibility, there were 57 million Americans living with a disability. That’s a lot of people with one or multiple forms of disability.
Secondly, disabilities are a huge spectrum of mental and physical attributes that manifest in thousands of different ways. To add more complexity, disabilities are not always at the same ‘severity’ on each day, and disabilities are much more nuanced than what popular culture would have you believe.
For example, did you know that being legally blind doesn’t automatically mean you have no sight whatsoever? If you’ve never known a blind person, you probably assumed that anyone diagnosed with blindness wouldn’t be able to see at all, but this isn’t true.
In fact, ‘legally blind’ is much more useful as legal terminology than medical. What I’m trying to put across here is that web accessibility is more nuanced than making your website ‘work for blind people’. It’s about covering a range of needs.
Back in a 2007 study conducted by Scott Hollier at Edith Cowan University, research showed that when questioned, 43.1% of respondents said that their disability prevented use of the internet in some capacity. That 43.1% is important. Would you want to risk alienating 43.1% of any demographic from your website? Or would you prefer to accommodate as many people as possible?
Of course, accessibility technology has improved by leaps and bounds in significant ways since 2007, but implementation is still not on many developers’ priority lists.
Just take this statistic for example. Writing in 2016, Site Improve said: “23% of web accessibility-related litigation and settlements since 2000 happened in the past three years”. Now, this fact illustrates that while there has been a massive rise in internet usage and that accessibility technology has become, for a lack of a better phrase, more accessible, companies have still been dragging their feet and have been suffering from legal action because of it.
So, Why is Web Accessibility Important?
To me, web access is important because it makes my website approachable. But if you’ve never had to think about disability from a personal perspective, it can hinder your ability to properly evaluate how your websites work.
Let’s take a look at some examples to illustrate how accessibility is important in different scenarios:
- – Blindness
For a moment, imagine that you’re visually impaired. Let’s say that while you can see better at a distance when you are up close to a computer screen, your vision leaves websites looking blurry and confusing.
And let’s say that to navigate any website, you require assistive technology like a screen reader (for the uninitiated, a screen reader is something that reads text aloud as you navigate a site).
Now let me ask: as a web developer or business owner, do you have any idea how a screen reader works? Be honest.
I’m guessing that you probably don’t. But you should.
Screen readers aren’t obscure. In fact, the biggest tech companies have their own built-in screen reading software. You might even have a screen reader sitting in your pocket right now. Just take a look at this list:
Built-in Screen Reader Examples:
- Kindle Text-To-Speech
- Android TalkBack
- iOS VoiceOver
Let’s hop to another example.
- – Physical Mobility Issues
Now imagine you have some sort of mobility issue. This could be from congenital chronic pain in your muscles, or it could be from spinal related paralysis. Whatever the reason might be, to access the internet, you need to be able to navigate websites through verbal commands.
Now, most smart devices have vocal commands. Whether it’s telling Netflix to play a new series to binge-watch or to ask Siri to settle a disagreement at the bar, vocal commands are becoming much more standardized.
If your website has the equivalent prose of monkeys on typewriters, or your formatting looks like something out of a Mark Z. Danielewski novel, then you’re going to run into issues when users attempt to access content through vocal commands.
What Makes Web Accessibility Important?
Now that I’ve explained in different situations how accessibility can become a significant factor in user experience, it’s now time for me to explain why you should care.
Ultimately, it comes down to providing a quality service. Ableism and discrimination against disabled people are unfortunately common in our society.
Like all forms of prejudice and discriminatory behaviour, it affects vulnerable people who are ignored due to a lack of financial incentives on behalf of businesses and corporations.
But before I get into a social justice rant, I’ll break down several points on why you should already have solid web accessibility
It’s Easy To Do
Off the bat, web accessibility isn’t hard. This isn’t a question of cost, labour or expenses. It’s simply a question of giving disabled users the dignity to access your website in a way that accommodates them.
Costs are low and resources are aplenty when it comes to web accessibility, and I can attest myself that implementation is achievable on any site, whatever the content might be. In fact, Website Accessibility Solutions like those at Utopia make the entire process straightforward. With total conversion and migration to a more accessible site, their automated services mean that there are no excuses when it comes to web accessibility.
You Owe It To Your Customers
If you bought a product–let’s say a blender–, you expect it to work right? Then why should disabled users expect anything less from their involvement with your website? If a disabled user pays for access or a subscription, and your website doesn’t offer effective ways to access that content under different means, then you have effectively robbed them of their money.
There are no two ways about it. If you take money from a customer and are unable to provide the goods, then they’ve paid for nothing.
Accessibility Builds a Brand
The shopping habits of disabled users are commonly online-focused, as physical limitations in stores and shopping centres mean that many disabled people feel uncomfortable or are physically unable to use brick and mortar shops.
This means that there are millions of disabled users looking to buy online, and they require a user experience that is clean, efficient and responsive to ensure that they can buy what they want to buy.
Not only are you making sure that you’re not losing customers, but you can actually grow more customers by marketing your business as an accessible brand. Many independent businesses on social media are adopting more inclusive, progressive and accessible ethoses, and they are generating more leads with the reputation of being a brand people can trust.
There Are Health Implications
Say that your newest website is for a video agency. This new site comes with full 4k resolution demo reels and portfolio pieces that are ready to blow any client’s socks off. Yet, some of the videos contain flashing lights. Is there a warning label for users with a history of seizures? Does your video autoplay? Has your site even been tested for epilepsy compliance?
Though accessibility is (and should be) focused on improving the experience for disabled users, there are many added benefits to increasing your accessibility features that trickle down to the entire user base.
For example, when I watch a movie, I need subtitles. It’s not a hearing issue, I just prefer to know exactly what’s said when I’m supposed to hear it. Without that option, my movie experience is significantly worse.
The same goes for websites. Of course, some users might be able to grit their teeth and navigate your site despite their discomfort, but why force them? The customer experience should be one that they don’t even need to think about.
There Are Legal Implications
While many businesses might choose to ignore their disabled clientele, that doesn’t mean that the law isn’t on their side if you decide to neglect their user experience.
There are dozens of pieces of legislature across the world dictating how businesses are expected to make reasonable adjustments towards accessibility to all people.
Most government sites are required to offer robust accessibility options, as are websites associated with educational and academic institutions.
In case you missed the statistic above, a staggering 23% of litigation and settlements that were related to web accessibility between the years 2000 to 2016 all happened in 2014-2016 alone. If much larger corporations have been threatened with legal action over their lack of inclusivity when it comes to disability, then it should worry you if your website is lacking in accessibility options.
It’s The Right Thing To Do
To finish off with the most important reason, making your site accessible is the best moral choice.
No matter what the marketing or financial benefits that might arrive with a better and more functional website, ensuring that your disabled users are treated with dignity and in a way that respects them is the most important reason of all.
Summary: Make Your Site Accessible.
If it wasn’t clear, my goal in writing this article is to leave you questioning how to make your sites more accessible to different users. Hopefully, by breaking down the various justifications behind accessibility, and by showing you how you can directly benefit, I’ve persuaded you to make the leap into creating more friendly cyberspace.
For fast, streamlined and ADA & WCAG 2.1 compliant websites, check out Utopia’s Website Accessibility solutions.