Accessibility. What it is. Why it matters.
January 5th, 2023
Nothing is more frustrating than when technology doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.
Imagine you land on a website, only to find the elements on the page completely scattered. Words are in random spots, you can hear jutting, overlapping noises, images don’t appear, and there’s no context to tell you what the images were, anyway.
If your platform doesn’t comply with web accessibility standards, this is the experience that some of your users may have. The poor accessibility of this hypothetical web platform will probably make them want to get out of there ASAP.
In fact, according to some published studies, 71% of web users will immediately leave a site they find hard to read or use. The good news is, by remediating accessibility shortcomings, you have a clear opportunity to engage with a larger percentage of your traffic.
Nothing but good things
Having an accessible website benefits all audiences. But the path to building and maintaining an accessible site can be difficult; there are a lot of moving pieces and different elements to consider when designing, building, and creating content.
We’re here to help. We’ve worked with an array of organizations, like SmileTrain and WomenLift Health, to help them comply with accessibility standards and improve overall usability. Implementing accessibility benefitted all audiences - both content creators and site visitors - enhancing their digital experience while being a continual driver of success.
Even though you may run into challenges while implementing or optimizing accessibility features, we believe that the nitty-gritty process is still very much worth it, because of the depth of empathy and genuine understanding of your users accessibility promulgates. Most noteworthy, accessible sites level the playing field for all. This expands beyond disabilities; it can also include considerations like neurodivergency and those living in underdeveloped areas with less reliable internet access.
Other than strengthening both an organization and our overall human spirit, there are countless more good reasons to ensure your site is accessible, and we’ll discuss those reasons, plus examples of accessibility standards, the challenges they can present, and much more, below.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is the concept of whether or not a product, service, or website can be used by everyone - however they encounter it.
When it comes to a user’s interaction with your digital platform, accessibility is the best standard to ensure each person can easily perceive, navigate, use, and contribute to it.
You might run into a common misconception out there that accessibility’s existence only serves those with disabilities. Quite the opposite, the name of the game is inclusion. Good accessibility design is inclusive of everyone - it makes web platforms more usable for both those with and without disabilities.
Accessible sites don’t just happen
Unfortunately, accessibility isn’t just baked into the building process to begin with. It’s another component that designers and developers must consciously implement and test.
But this can also be seen as a great thing: Having to consciously implement accessibility features encourages designers’ and organizations’ practice of empathy and deliberate consideration of their users.
A web platform has the chance to create an inclusive environment, where a greater amount of people are able to interact with an organization completely. And let’s face it, in our new-age, consumer-centric world, the more people that are able to fully utilize a site, the better business will be. But, more importantly, isn’t the spirit of accessibility just the right thing to do? We think so.
Accessibility features complement the wave of human-centered web design we’re seeing in today’s digital landscape. If an organization’s goal is to grow, then they have to truly understand their users. It takes meeting them on a mutual level to cultivate communication and understanding; so that both parties step away from their device better off than they were before.
The benefits of an accessible website
Right off the bat, accessible websites carry an impressive resumé. They’ve shown to:
- Increase traffic to a webpage
- Rank higher in search engines
- Have less chance of running into legal issues
- ADA Digital Accessibility Lawsuits reported that over 4000 lawsuits were filed in 2022 on the basis of web accessibility. That’s almost 100 lawsuits a week!
- Reach a broader audience
- Better position your brand as thoughtful or empathetic
- Drive innovation
Wait, that last one, right? It’s true: accessible websites can’t help but drive innovation. Tech giants like Google and Apple are making moves to create new products and services based on shortcomings they’ve seen in accessibility. Microsoft’s “Seeing AI” application uses a device’s camera to identify people and objects, then uses a speaking feature to describe those objects to people who have a visual impairment.
So, you could say a base standard of accessibility raises our world’s standard of innovation.
The challenges that come with accessibility conformance
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, an initiative of the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), there are some challenges that org’s typically deal with when it comes to accessibility conformance:
- “Numerous provisions need human involvement to test and verify conformance, which is especially challenging to scale for large websites and for dynamic websites.”
- “Large and dynamic sites with their changing permutations may be difficult to validate.”
- “Third parties frequently add and change content on large and dynamic sites.”
- “Applying a web-based, and page-based [accessibility] conformance model can be challenging to do for non-web Information and Communications Technologies.”
You’ve probably dealt with some, if not all, of these challenges. With our seasoned experience implementing and optimizing various sites’ accessibility features, we firstly diagnose these pain points, to clearly define your options in mitigating them as effectively as possible.
The standards of accessibility
There are four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR), that together form the standard for web accessibility:
- Perceivable: Content on the platform must be perceived by at least one of the user’s senses.
- Operable: The interface must be able to be used by means other than a conventional mouse/keypad.
- Understandable: The content must not only be presented to the user, but it must have clear and simple language, ensuring interfaces are consistent and predictable.
- Robust: The platform is built in such a way that it is compatible with the technology that the visitor is using.
With POUR as the base, all other accessibility features you’d find on a compliant platform should build off of it.
Examples of accessibility features
Now that we have the definition of accessibility, its use, and its benefits all tucked away, let’s really get into concrete examples of what accessibility features look like. You might even already recognize some of these features from web platforms you’re familiar with, thanks to POUR!
But if not, we’re sure that after reading through the list, you’ll be able to locate these helpful features at whichever website (that complies with accessibility standards) you go to next.
Text size and spacing
- Using a default or larger font size with 1 to 1.5 paragraph spacing improves the readability of content.
Color combinations with good contrast
- Noticeable contrast between backgrounds, texts, and images so that all elements are easily perceivable.
- Description added to images which are invisible on the page, but read aloud to blind users or those with visual impairment on a screen reader.
- Presenting repeated content in a series of web pages in the same order so users can predict the location of the content they are looking for and find it more quickly when they need it again.
- Content that autoplays (videos, animations, etc.) may be distracting or overwhelming. Additionally, auto-playing content may play simultaneously as a screen-reader, making it difficult for those who use a screen reader to navigate the rest of the page.
- When there is a video or animation on the page, transcripts are the text-version of the speech and non-speech audio needed to understand the content.
Writing in plain, simple language
- Content or any words on the page need to be easily understood by everyone, free of jargon to give readers the clarity they need (and trust us, by being in the tech industry, we’ve had our fair share of encounters with technical jargon. It can get frustrating trying to translate every sentence you come across).
- All functionality on a site or platform must be compatible with a keyboard. This means users can access and move between forms, links, buttons, and other controls by using the keyboard (specifically, the tab key).
Logical heading structure, design, and flow of pages
- The design and flow of pages will complement the message the organization is trying to communicate to help a user more easily navigate the page. In addition, headings must be distinct and accurate in defining what content is beneath it.
To sum it up
Accessibility is no longer just a “nice to have,” but a “need to have.” When sites are built from the starting block with accessibility in mind, owners are given the opportunity to welcome every potential visitor. The end-result is a higher-quality platform, raising the standard of good digital experiences and the chances of ongoing success for your org. Accessibility drives businesses, society, and empathy forward.
With accessibility, it’s true that there’s a special focus on other’s needs, but it's just as important to not lose sight of your own. We’ve been there with clients; we get how tough it is to juggle all of the complexities accessibility presents, while maintaining a web platform that meets your digital marketing goals (that features interactivity, animation, and heavy features).
FFW continually ensures we implement a foundation of accessibility features in the context of your org’s goals, audiences, and teams no matter the digital project we’re working on.
If you’ve been thinking about incorporating or enhancing accessibility, or are just curious to know more, our digital experts would love to chat with you about all of the opportunities it can provide for your org. Click here to connect with us.