The internet is the world's most extensive library and has information on nearly everything. It's easy to find what you're looking for online. Still, if your site is not accessible, many people won't be able to use it—1 in every 5 people has an impairment that makes online information difficult to access.
You might think that this doesn't affect you as a business owner. Still, if your site isn't accessible, people with disabilities will have difficulty finding or using your products or services. And if they can't do that? They'll go somewhere else where they best meet their needs. So the right thing to do is to make your website accessible, but it also gives you access to an additional 20% of the market.
In this post, we'll answer three important questions about web accessibility: what is web accessibility? How does it impact businesses like yours? What can I do to make my site more accessible?
Table of contents
What is web accessibility?
➤ The types of disability
Why is web accessibility important?
➤ Accessibility standards
➤ The four principles of web accessibility
➤ The components of web accessibility
➤ Compliance and legislation
How to create an accessible website
➤ Testing for web accessibility
➤ Web accessibility examples
What is web accessibility?
The goal of web accessibility is to make your website accessible to everyone. It doesn't just cover visually impaired or blind users but also people with a range of other disabilities that affect how they use websites.
Web accessibility means three things:
- Making your website usable by everyone, including those with disabilities.
- Backing up this usability with available content for all to read and hear (like subtitles).
- Ensuring that assistive technologies like screen readers can access your site.
The types of disability
Let's take a deeper look at some of the most common disabilities and how they affect people's ability to access websites.
- Cognitive disability: This type of disability refers to any mental or psychological condition that affects cognition. For example, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have difficulty focusing on tasks for long periods and learning new things. In contrast, others with depression may have trouble concentrating or remembering information. In either case, web designers need to create accessible websites because these disabilities can prevent someone from using a website if it's designed poorly or has confusing navigation methods.
- Visual impairment: Most people think of web accessibility in terms of making websites for blind users who use screen readers. However, it isn't just blindness that needs consideration when making websites accessible! Many people have other visual impairments. If your website has these users in mind, they can access it correctly. Common web accessibility issues for sight-impaired users are low vision, low contrast, and colour blindness.
- Hearing impairment: it's common to assume that people with hearing impairments are less limited on the web than people with other disabilities. But although people with hearing impairments can access visual content on the web and can navigate it, audio and video content pose a challenge.
- Neurological impairment: it was common to see flickering, blinking, or moving content on websites to draw attention to a particular element. Fortunately, this design practice has largely fallen out of favour. If your website has flickering content, you may need to reassess its need and design since it can induce seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. Aside from the risk of attacks, flickering content is one of the most annoying things on a website. This is a good example of how web accessibility and good user experience intertwine. If your website is accessible, it will provide a good experience to all users – regardless of ability or disability.
- Mobility disabilities: those with physical disabilities can see and hear everything on a website. However, they may need help controlling the mouse. To operate a keyboard, the user may rely on adaptive technologies like mouth sticks, "Puff' n' Sip" systems, voice controls, or eye-tracking software.
Why is web accessibility important?
According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2011 world report on disabilities, 15% of the world's population has a disability. The numbers vary slightly depending on how you define "disability," but they all point to the same conclusion: if you have a website or app, it matters very much that it works for everyone.
It's the law. In the USA, in 2010, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was amended by Congress to include electronic and information technology (EIT). This means that federal agencies must make their websites accessible to people with disabilities—and by extension, so must any private companies who contract with them.
It's good for business! More people will buy from your company if they can easily access its website or app from any device, so there is an economic incentive for making those technologies available everywhere possible and accessible themselves.
It helps your SEO. Using web accessibility tools, like alt text with relevant keywords for images, optimizes your content and will rank higher on search engines.
Did you know every second Thursday in November is World Usability Day?
This day aims to raise standards so that technology works to harness human potential and make our world easy for all. Well-designed user experiences can help make a more inclusive world. And we can all help shape history through our work, and a great user experience design allows people to be their best selves.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to set standards for web content accessibility to make websites, devices, and content accessible to users with disabilities. Under the WCAG, content is the information on a web page or web application, e.g., text, images, sounds, and code or markup that defines structure.
In 2008, the W3C published WCAG 2.0, which became an International Standard in 2012. An updated version of the guidelines—WCAG 2.1—was published in 2018. WCAG 2.0 includes all requirements ("success criteria") from 2.0, with a few additional success criteria in 2.1.
The guidelines form the basis of most legislation on accessibility worldwide, including in the USA Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), etc. Some countries have indirect references to WCAG; for example, EN 301 549 for the EU Web Accessibility Directive in Europe does not explicitly state its adoption of WCAG but includes all requirements from the guidelines.
WCAG establishes three conformance levels to its success criteria:
- Level A is the minimum level of accessibility that must be met.
- Level AA addresses some disabilities' most common barriers to entry.
- Level AAA is the highest level of conformity, but most sites do not require it because it is difficult to achieve.
The four principles of web accessibility
The principles are:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must present to users in ways they can perceive. This includes providing alternatives for content not perceivable by all users, such as text transcripts or captions.
- Operable: Users must be able to use interface components and navigation. You should use the correct keyboard access keys and avoid traps or patterns that break standard keyboard functionality. Voice commands and other assistive devices are available for those who cannot use them.
- Understandable: All information needed by users to complete tasks must be legible. There should be no barriers between users and understanding what's required from them when interacting with content on your website (or any web-based medium).
If these four principles aren't followed, the web will be inaccessible to people with disabilities. And we don't want that.
The components of web accessibility
- Content: content is the information your website presents, including text, images, video, and audio.
- Authoring tools: these assist in creating or modifying content for web pages and applications such as code editors, content management systems, blogs, etc.
- Evaluation tools: these help you to assess whether a site or application meets WCAG 2.0 guidelines by giving you information about how accessible it is (or isn't).
- User agents: they are software programs that help users access online content such as screen readers or keyboard-only devices like tablets and smartphones. These comprise some of the most commonly used evaluation tools when assessing websites against WCAG 2 guidelines. Still, authors can also use them during development to test accessible content before publishing it on the internet.
Compliance and legislation
You may be wondering why web accessibility is so important. The answer lies in legislation and the fact that it's not just a moral imperative—it's also one of law.
In the United States:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 508 require federal agencies to make their online content accessible to all people, including those with disabilities and those who use assistive technology like screen readers.
- Other laws, such as California's Web Accessibility Law, require state websites to follow WCAG guidelines.
- EU Directive 2000/31/EC (the EU Web Accessibility Directive) requires that European public authorities make their websites conform with WCAG 1.0 Level A when published or updated after November 8th 2002.
- The European Accessibility Act (EAA) requires EU member states to legislate on accessibility on and offline, providing a framework of standard accessibility rules for the market.
How to create an accessible website
Here is an infographic to understand better what an accessibility website must have:
With this knowledge, let's look at some tools that can assist you in making your website more accessible.
Testing for web accessibility
Now it's time to test your site. While many people think of testing as something that only happens once, it should be an ongoing process.
You can use various tools to test websites—including those built into your browser, like VoiceOver on Mac or Narrator on Windows—that will tell you whether or not your website is accessible.
In addition, there are several tools available today for testing web accessibility. There is a list of tools on W3C's website for you to learn about, and we have our list of recommendations too.
Wave allows you to check the accessibility of a given website by verifying that all areas on your site comply with WCAG standards and highlighting which parts of your site aren't accessible.
DYNO Mapper, a sitemap generator by Indigo Design Company LLC, uses sitemaps to highlight areas of your site that do not meet WCAG standards. It also works with Google Analytics to offer in-depth analyses.
WCAG Compliance Auditor
Funnelback's WCAG Compliance Auditor is an excellent choice for those who have not yet worked much on web accessibility. It gives recommendations on improving those parts of your website that are not yet accessible, as well as a benchmark for measuring your website's accessibility over time.
A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator
Use the A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator by A11Y Company to test your website's colour combinations. The tool will display colour contrast issues and recommend solutions to meet WCAG standards.
Web accessibility examples
Here are some examples of websites that meet WCAG accessibility standards.
The W3C website has been designed following the WCAG. It follows many rules and regulations to be accessible to people with varying disabilities and levels of ability. They use structured content with clear tags indicating hierarchy, great use of colour contrast, simple language, and a focus indicator.
Unilever is a multinational consumer goods company. And their website complies with WCAG guidelines regarding colour contrast ratios, font sizes, and text alternatives for images and accommodates assistive technologies and code (for example, screen readers, keyboard emulators, screen magnifiers, enhanced user interfaces, and visual styling).
There are many good reasons to make your website accessible. But one extremely important is that web accessibility is about inclusion. It's about ensuring your website is helpful to everyone, not just people with disabilities.
It's wise to make as much of your website WCAG-compliant as possible since it will create a memorable and positive UX and help you boost customer loyalty.
Be sure to use the tools listed above to make your website accessible, and review the examples we’ve provided for inspiration. If you need support designing an impactful and accessible website, Imaginary Cloud can help!