With daily advances in online technology and greater demands on what we demand from a website I have a strong personal opinion that the intranet should be the showcase for creating an accessible world.
A correctly designed, developed and edited website ensures all users (no matter what their ability or disability is) can have equal access to a website’s information and functionality.
It’s not a new concept; in 1999 the Web Accessibility Initiative published the first Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG1.0). These guidelines are continually updated to take into account advances in new technology and online requirements.
Sadly these guidelines are still widely ignored by site owners, developers and designers mainly due to the misconceptions about what it takes to make a site accessible and how it might deteriorate the quality of the site design. By ensuring the right level of accessibility is reached for the selected audience and content type developing an accessible and well-designed website need not be out of reach.
Here are the top 5 reasons I’ve come across for why clients rule out even considering building accessibility into their site and my thoughts on how these can be overcome.
1- Accessible websites are ugly and boxy in design
Accessibility actually has nothing to do with how visually attractive or interesting a website is. It’s completely possible to develop a graphically beautiful, engaging AND accessible website. It’s often due to misinterpretation of the accessibility guidelines that leads to this being the rationale for not considering an accessible website.
2- Web accessibility is expensive, time-consuming & hard to implement
By integrating accessibility requirements during the planning and building of a site cost and time should not be an issue. Rebuilding a site for accessibility can be difficult and costly (all the more reasons to do it right from the beginning).
There are no special HTML or CSS for accessible websites; the same technology we use every day is used but with more consideration and attention to the details that ensure the content can be accessed and in accordance with best practices.
3- Accessible sites only benefit a few people
There are 4 principles defined in the WCAG guidelines as the common attributes that contribute to the overall usability of a website.
The sites information and interface must be visible to all of the user’s sense; content can be accessed through all of the following – sight, hearing and touch.
The interface interaction must be performable by all users, forms, navigation, and controls.
Content and information cannot be beyond user understanding.
Content should remain accessible as technologies and browsers advance and evolve.
Think about it; each one of these attributes has an impact on us at some point in our lives. A broken wrist leaves us unable to use the mouse which means sites where tabbing navigation is not available are no longer accessible to us. Flickering images or badly contrasting colours can be painful for those who suffer migraines. And at some point we’re all going to get a bit older, sight, hearing and dexterity deteriation will all impact our interaction with a website.
These are just the physical elements; the WCAG guidelines also refer to best practices for building websites accessible to those with cognitive disabilities. For me these elements don’t just assist someone with a cognitive disability, they benefit us all. Clear layout, consistent navigation and meaningful link names are all good user experience, ensuring we can find the information we need quickly and easily.
Oh and before I forget - about 10% of the population worldwide has a disability that affects Internet use, that’s about 650 million people – that doesn’t really seem like a few people to me.
4- Web accessibility is the responsibility of only the site developers
As I mentioned above accessibility of a website doesn’t only relate to functionality it also relates to the site being understandable. With this in mind ensuring content is written in an accessible way such as providing clear instructions on forms and in bite-sized chunks rather than long paragraphs will assist those with memory or attention restrictions.
Consistency throughout the site benefits everyone not just those with a disability. If you refer to your company as ‘the organization’ don’t change halfway through and say ‘our company’.
For the design team considering the placement of content that appears throughout the site so that it remains consistent ensures everyone knows where to go to find your phone number or navigation.
5- There are no additional benefits to making a site accessible
We’re always looking for the additional benefit; at first glance it might appear that there are no additional benefits to building a site with accessibility features – not true.
- Search engine optimization
Increasing SEO is something most companies won’t hesitate to spend money on. Many of the accessibility guidelines are actually the same as the techniques we use for SEO. Valid HTML, clear link names, descriptive ‘title’ tags, creating a site map, etc. This means that incorporating accessibility will at the same time help to improve websites’ search engines ranking.
- Increased usability
The inclusion of accessibility features increases usability of a website for everyone, and therefore increases the overall quality of user experience. Clear and consistent design and navigation are elements we should strive for in good website design anyway but contribute directly to its accessibility.
Increasing usability will ensure users are more likely to return to the website, use it more and in turn recommend it to others.
And last but by no means least increasing efforts towards making your website accessible can have a positive impact on your company’s reputation. Evidencing commitment to ethical and social responsibility is a growing concern for many organizations.
With such a crossover between standard usability best practices and accessibility guidelines, outside of the ethical reasons for including accessibility as part of your website project brief there are many great reasons for making your website accessible.
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