If you are trying to run a successful site, there have probably been countless hours spent on discussing colors, choosing placement of content, and deciding on the perfect phrasing for call to actions. There is probably a push in your company for quick loading pages while researching and implementing best SEO practices. You may have even hired every kind of consultant to help audit and improve your site. However, if you haven’t really thought about accessibility for the web or heard of 508 and ADA compliance, which is pretty common, then there is something you definitely need to catch up on.
What is a11y?
In the web development community accessibility focus has grown substantially the past couple of years. To be #hashtag friendly though, the 11 letters between "a" and "y" for "accessibility" were reduced to 2. But what does it actually mean to be accessible on the web? We will want to look into who is trying to use the web today. Everyone.
Web browsing has become a normal part of the day for all types of people which includes those with impairments. When we talk about impairments it might not always be recognized at how prominent it is. In reality, one in five Americans have some form of disability. Those disabilities include some more recognized types such as limited mobility, low vision, or difficulty of hearing.
In the physical world you might recognize accessibility items such as:
- ramps added to buildings
- noise indicators introduced to cross walks
- signs with helpful symbols and braille
For a website accessibility needs include similar needs:
- Multiple ways to interact with a page so keyboard, switch, mouse, and touch users can get around
- Text alternatives for all media content so screen readers and other accessible tools can read content to end users
- Semantic tags and helpful indicators and explanations so users can easily digest information
To help provide guidelines to the web in the US, there were legal additions included on the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A much wider spanning set of guidelines were created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) they updated to 2.0 in 2008 created three levels of compliance and broke up the needs for inclusive development into 4 ideas: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. There is a fair more history to all of these and many of the acts are trying to update their standards to match the needs of today. However, the main part to note is that WCAG 2.0 AA is a well-recognized approach to creating accessible sites.
Why implement a11y into your site?
Accessibility in development and design helps with more than compliance. Different companies and sites may have different compliance needs, but there are a lot of benefits when implementing guidelines. When looking at the previous accessibility lists of examples, you may even have noticed features that you are using on sites and in the real world without thinking about it. Improving your accessible UI/UX influence more than 1 out of 5 but rather 5 out of 5 people. Here are some questions that might show the common benefits:
Have you ever viewed the web on an old monitor or on a device with glare?
- Sites with proper contrast ratios made it easier for you to read
Have you watched videos when you are in a noisy area or without speakers?
- Sound isn’t always an option so you might have read captions or transcripts instead
Have you ever broken your arm?
- Added in functionality to work with more than a mouse might have helped you out
But the benefits are actually much larger than just these examples. Getting the right mindset for accessibility and looking at it more than just a checklist will potentially net you:
- Increased SEO
- Larger user base
- Increased conversion rates
- Fewer bounced users
- Higher amounts of returning customers
- And you actually get to help people
How to Achieve an Accessible Site
So if you haven’t been thinking about accessibility, this might persuade some interest, but you might not be sure what to do next. There are a fair amount of tools out there to give you an idea of your site. There are free screen readers such as NVDA if you want to step into the shoes of some users. Try to use a keyboard and tab through your site at a basic level as well. There are also automated/manual online tools such as Wave, Ainspector, Spectrum, WebAIM Contrast Checker that can give you some insights. However, without a thorough audit and true manual user testing/feedback setup you might not get the real picture.
We can help step in and determine weak points and improvements to your sites. Site audits on usability and accessibility compliance can help give you a much deeper look into issues and provide solutions. The improvements determined to help sites could involve determining new branding colors, media solutions, and content strategies. There are often needs to improve functionality of interactive pieces and traversing of sites. There are even times when an overhaul of a dated site is necessary. The good news is that you aren’t alone. The web world as a whole is trying to catch up so this is a good time to get started. There is a real ROI that you gain when you focus on accessibility, so the costs are worth it. You can also feel good knowing you are helping out a lot of forgotten about users and making everyone’s life on the web just a little bit easier.