The internet was built on the idea of establishing equal opportunities for everyone, including persons with disabilities (PWDs). One in seven people has some type of disability, possibly limiting their ability to interact with websites. However, there are still accessibility barriers that make it harder for millions of PWDs worldwide to use and access websites independently.
Learn about web accessibility and what you can do to help avoid negative public perception, discrimination and even costly litigation for your small business.
What is Web Accessibility
Web accessibility refers to the configuration of online products, facilities and services to make them usable and navigable for everyone, including those with hearing, vision, motor and cognitive conditions.
The web should be inclusive—it should be accessible to those who have permanent or temporary disabilities or situational disabilities.
People who are visually impaired should be able to read through screen readers, the deaf can stay up-to-date with current events through indexed transcripts, and the mute can join online discussions through blogs and comments.
What is ADA compliance?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), instituted in 1990, aims to end discrimination based on differing abilities. It requires establishments—government institutions, non-profit organizations, commercial organizations—to give equal-access accommodations.
The ADA Standards for Accessible Design, published in September 2010, covers all electronic and information technology, including computer hardware, software and documentation. Accordingly, the ADA Standards apply to all commercial and public entities that have places intended for public accommodation.
What does ADA say about websites?
The Web is considered a public accommodation and thus obliged to comply with the ADA standards. Even though there are no pertinent regulations covering ADA web accessibility, federal courts ruled that website accessibility falls within the spirit of ADA by lessening commerce and business barriers for individuals with disabilities. In several cases, the courts have ruled that websites fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and thereby interpreted as a place of public accommodation.
So, any forms of ineffective website design and development that are not accessible can be considered discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Benefits of Web Accessibility
There are numerous practical benefits to making your website accessible aside from avoiding possible legal issues. Making your website accessible gives a better user experience not just for the disabled, but for everyone. It also helps you rank better on search engines, improve conversion rates, optimize your site's overall performance and create more loyal and satisfied users.
How to Make Your Website Accessible
Making the web accessible is dependent on several key components to work together. These components are web browsers, web technologies, authoring tools and other "user agents." Follow international standards for web accessibility like WCAG 2.1, which were developed to provide technical specifications, techniques, guidelines and resources for accessibility solutions.
Create an accessibility guide and statement
One way to express support for accessibility and avoid legal consequences for non-compliance is to publish a web accessibility statement on your company website. The statement should affirm your organization’s commitment and intent to making your website accessible for everyone.
Before you start redesigning or developing your site, or publishing a statement—it's a good idea to evaluate your accessibility. This is to address problems or to mention in your statement that you are "in the process of..." This way, you can communicate to disabled visitors your intent and commitment to Web accessibility.
Other best practices you should consider when curating your Web Accessibility Statement are:
- Write a simple, easy-to-read, clear statement about your intent and commitment to following WCAG 2.1, ADA Standards, and other accessibility guidelines to make your site more accessible.
- Make your statement highly visible and linked it in the footer of all your pages.
- Provide a clear path for communication so people can reach you easily (i.e. a toll-free number, chat support, contact form, email, etc.)
Many individuals with disabilities depend heavily on adaptive keyboards and other assistive technology when navigating the web. So consider adopting a keyboard-friendly layout and navigation.
Alternative Text for Images
Alternative text for images (alt-text) is a simple yet effective way to make your site more accessible. Screen readers read the alt-text aloud so the visually impaired know what images are on your site. It also helps search engines to properly index your image content.
Transcripts for Audio
Transcripts for audio or video are beneficial for people with disabilities, particularly deaf and blind users. They use Braille or other assistive devices to access the content.
Design your forms for accessibility
Make your forms simple and easy-to-read to benefit everyone, with larger font and clean design.
Use Headers to Structure Your Content Correctly
Use headers (i.e. H1, H2) to correctly structure your content to make it organized and more readable; this is beneficial for those who use a screen reader.
Avoid automatic media and navigation
Automatic media and navigation can be frustrating to many users, especially those who use a screen reader as it also interrupts the audio. Not everyone reads at the same speed so the automatic navigation prevents them from fully absorbing the information on the current page.
Consider adding a “skipping navigation links” to conveniently redirect the user to important anchor links.
Follow ARIA Good Practices
The Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) provides guidelines on how to make your site accessible for those who use assistive technologies.
Understanding the importance of web accessibility is a moral and ethical obligation. Making the web more accessible brings a positive impact and eliminates discrimination against those with disabilities. Optimizing your site to be fully accessible helps avoid costly litigations, as well as provides practical benefits such as better search engine ranking, better conversion rate, repeat visitors, and more loyal users.