If you’re wondering what accessibility means and how to get started making your website accessible, you’re in the right place. Let’s take a look at what it means to create an accessible website and provide some high-level tips on how to achieve it. Before getting started, we need to understand why accessibility matters, and how external factors such as laws and regulations for businesses, and even a pandemic, impact both companies and users alike.
What Is Website Accessibility?
Accessibility refers to making digital content on the web accessible to users with disabilities, regardless of how users are interacting with your content or the device they are using. For some, interacting with a website may involve a mouse, while others may rely on a keyboard or even voice commands to complete tasks like filling out a form. Similarly, while some people might access a website and perceive content visually, some might access the same content using a screen-reader and perceive content strictly by audio. Ultimately, the goal of accessibility is to consider the variety of ways one can interact with and consume digital content, as well as the wide range of abilities and needs of users. We need to create robust and flexible experiences – ensuring equal access to users with and without disabilities. Disabilities may include visual, cognitive, or physical impairments to name a few.
Why Does Accessibility Matter?
There has been an uptick in lawsuits against companies for having inaccessible websites in recent years, a trend that has continued to grow year after year. In addition to local and state civil rights laws such as the CA Unruh Act, the American Disabilities Act, or ADA for short, is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against users with disabilities. Some high-profile accessibility lawsuits include Dominos, Kylie Jenner, and even Beyonce. Today, however, companies of all sizes are being sued. While limiting legal risk is one reason for accessibility compliance, it’s crucial to consider how inaccessible websites impact your customers.
Today, many aspects of our daily lives happen online, and the shift to online services continues to grow at a rapid pace. Everything from banking to scheduling doctors’ appointments, shopping, school, and more. But what happens when these critical services are unavailable to customers because they are inaccessible? What options do customers have? Visiting a physical location or calling customer support may be the only viable options available. Now let’s consider business closures during a pandemic when physical locations are not available, and the shift towards online services is more critical than ever. When customers are required to use inaccessible online services, it may result in task abandonment, frustration, and a negative user experience, ultimately affecting their right to equal access and perception of your brand. They may also visit competitor websites, resulting in the loss of your customers. From a user experience and business perspective, accessibility is good. Not only does accessibility compliance reduce legal risk, it also increases customer retention, brand loyalty, and brand reputation.
Tips to make your website Accessible
Now that we’ve briefly covered what accessibility is and why it matters, here are some tips for creating accessible websites:
- Make accessibility a requirement and ensure all stakeholders are on board.
- Design with accessibility in mind by incorporating inclusive design principles.
- Develop using semantic HTML, and other best practices according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a global accessibility standard in web development.
- Incorporate testing into the development cycle. Include automated and manual testing, including testing by users with disabilities.
- Maintain accessibility and prevent accessibility regression by developing and testing all new and existing features and perform periodic checks.
- Build for a wide range of abilities and diversity within customers (don’t assume customers are all sighted and mouse users).
- Don’t rely on accessibility widgets to make your website compliant – only properly written code can create a website accessible.