Web accessibility is pivotal — here’s why
Last month, our team discussed how accessibility is still overlooked in website builds and design. There are many aspects of browsing the internet that certain users may need support with, and many tools that can enhance everyone’s web experience. Do you understand the guidelines around web accessibility and are you taking them into full consideration on your projects? Read on to find out.
So what is web accessibility and why does it matter?
The internet. The web. Online. Whatever you call it, accessing information has been available for over 25 years and is a human right that should be equally available to all. It enables people to have active roles in society, acquire an education, and live a full life. The Web Accessibility Initiative defines web accessibility as:
“The ability for all people to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web as well as to contribute.”
Just as in physical spaces, this includes making space for any diversities and differences that people may have in accessing and processing information online, including auditory, neurological, visual and physical. Individuals may struggle to access a website or online resource, for example if they are older, not able to read as well, have a temporary injury or slower internet. Accessibility has to consider these factors too.
Similarly to physical or other information spaces in our world, accessibility online is still unfortunately a big and current issue where many improvements can be made. Unlike with physical spaces though, online spaces need to cater to a much larger and varied potential audience but has creative digital tools to do so. As well as often being a legal requirement, it also strengthens connections with more of your audience and widens your potential reach — so surely a business no-brainer?
What are the benefits of embracing web accessibility?
People with disabilities continually combat multiple social, architectural, and digital barriers every day. Despite numbering over 1.3 billion people in the world, they are historically underrepresented, both as a consumer and active members of audiences online.
However, rather than focusing solely on this fact, which can be disempowering, these experiences drive innovation by developing solutions to challenges in design and infrastructure. Flexibility and usability are key to creating intuitive experiences that are more human-centred and better for all, not just those with different access needs. Did you know that digital tools considered crucial and everyday, like email and voice controls, were originally developed to include those with visual impairments in the earlier days of the internet? Now they solve problems for billions of people around the world.
People with disabilities in the UK have an average spending power of £249 billion each year, called the Purple Pound. With an ageing population, there are millions of people with a widening range of potential conditions and impairments that may not consider themselves disabled but their needs may become more pressing over time. That is an incredibly large market that businesses and brands can completely miss out on if web accessibility is not taken into account properly.
Put simply, if your website is not accessible, you could be breaking the law. The 2010 Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of protected characteristics, which includes disabilities.
Let’s get into some guidelines
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) works to ensure the internet is developed with open standards to remain usable long-term for all. Their Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines and technical specifications are internationally recognised and are developed with individuals and organisations around the world.
While services and agencies provided by the government are legally required to make their sites accessible, for private businesses and organisations they are considered best practice. To meet UK government guidance, you must:
- meet W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG)
- Ensure your site works on all assistive technologies like screen readers and voice recognition
- Include disabled people in any user research
- Provide an accessibility statement for your site saying how accessible it is
- Include accessibility needs in your budget and design from the beginning
How to comply with WCAG 2.1
WCAG 2.0 was originally published in 2008, with 2.1 extending the guidelines as technology Each are designed to provide technical standards to web developers and designers, with 13 guidelines under four principles. There are three levels of criteria that your site accessibility can reach — A, AA and AAA — if certain or all requirements are met.
At a glance, here are some of the areas you must meet under each of the four design principles set out by WCAG 2.1.
Principle 1: Perceivable
Ensure users can recognise and use your site and its features with the senses available to them, which can include:
- Providing text alternatives to non-text content (alt-text for images, for example)
- Providing captions, sign language or audio description for media
- Ensuring information follows a logical and well-structured sequence with headers so it can be easily read by screen readers
- For designers — make it as easy as possible for users to see and hear your site content — there are specific guidelines for use of colour, responsiveness and font size
Principle 2: Operable
Ensure your site is usable no matter how a person accesses it:
- Make every aspect of your site keyboard accessible
- Give people enough time to read and understand the content — consider any time-outs or re-authentications if a session expires
- Don’t design content that can cause seizures or other physical reactions
- Ensure users can navigate your site properly with headers and their location on a webpage
- Allow for inputs other than a keyboard, including pointer or user gestures
Principle 3: Understandable
Whether thinking about accessibility for impairments or not, you should always consider how to make your site as easy to read as possible.
- Use plain English
- Explain any longer words and acronyms if you have to use them
- Markup and label any forms that should be filled in
Principle 4: Robust
Websites should be designed to be compatible with:
- Older and current browsers and technology
- Assistive technologies
Testing site accessibility — beta, alpha and beyond
Ensuring your site’s accessibility meets all the criteria is key throughout each development stage. People with disabilities as users and customers should be central to your research.
Talk to Verse
For a team that will put accessibility and innovative design at the centre of your digital project, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.