Most people see the internet as a best friend that is always there to help. It brings together those who are far away, answers that doubt that arises at the most inappropriate moment, helps you shop, and even helps you pay that bill without having to stand in line at the bank. Many people in the world are connected to it at this very moment. And that is why talking about web accessibility is so important. Without it, millions of people are unable to perform all these simple, everyday activities.
Just like the content we find on the web, its users are also very diverse. And different people access information in different ways. Having an accessible website is about making sure that they all get the best possible experience while browsing. But how many of websites are accessible?
We will answer this and other common questions about web accessibility, starting with the most basic one:
We know that there is still little information about the subject, and some people end up believing a lot of myths. But web accessibility is about something very simple: breaking barriers in virtual environments. To make a page accessible is to allow different types of people, with or without disabilities, to reach the contents and understand them with autonomy.
“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web. And more. It also benefits other people, including older people with changing capabilities due to aging.” (Web Accessibility Primer – W3C Brasil)
A good first step is to put yourself in the other person’s place. Understanding that a blind person does not access content in the same way as a deaf person. The first uses a screen reader and the second may need translation into Sign Language. In other words, people with different types of disabilities use specific resources and assistive technologies when navigating. And websites need to be adapted to all of them.
At first, it may seem complicated. But making your website accessible is not as hard as you think… We explain a bit more about it here below!
The major global organization related to web accessibility is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), made up of a staff of technical experts who help coordinate technology development and manage the operations of the Consortium. Through their Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP), they publish the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, commonly known as WCAG.
Those guidelines are the main responsibles for defining and steering the basic requirements for web accessibility around the world, stating 4 principles to focus on when creating an accessible website.
As we said, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) lay out 4 basic principles of web accessibility. Each of them also state accessibility guidelines to achieve web accessibility, but before we get into them, we will explain what the principles are:
The information and interface are presented in a way that can be perceived, understood, or that the user can be made aware of. Keep in mind that the information must be perceivable directly by the user, or by any type of assistive technology.
Interface and navigation should be operable for all users, without disrupting them in any way. Usually, the most operable websites are very straightforward and do not have any excess functionalities.
Information should be presented in a simple and understandable way, including both written and visual content. Also, an important part of an understandable website is a good structure, that is intuitive and that navigation is readily available.
The content should be robust in a way that can maximize its compatibility with different types of people and assistive technologies. In short, your website’s HTML must be written in a way that assistive technologies can analyze your code easily.
People are becoming more and more comfortable doing all kinds of activities in the virtual world. Therefore, aside from having a beautiful and attractive design, websites need to cater to everyone. When a page is not accessible, it is closing the doors to millions of people, going against its purpose – which is to attract more visitors.
In other words, not thinking about accessibility can be the same as leaving money on the table, given that 15% of the world’s population has some kind of disability. It is worth pointing out that nowadays there are already resources that allow you to create websites that are beautiful, functional, and accessible at the same time. Furthermore, accessibility can improve your page ranking in Google, since the search engine algorithm recognizes these practices and sees it as more relevant.
Are you lost and do not know where to start? Lucky for you, the WCAG presented the 4 principles of web accessibility with some guidelines for each of them, remember? Well, here they are, to help you understand better how to actually build an accessible website:
We have put together some very simple and practical tips for you to warm up your engines and make your site more accessible little by little. They are small details, but they make all the difference for those who need them! Here are some tips:
There are countless accessibility tools available for users, companies and website designers nowadays. Here we will mention some of the most used ones, so you can understand how they work and how to integrate them in your own website. If you want to go the extra mile, you can check out the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List that the W3C has put together, with over 160 examples.
To help make your life easier, we gathered here the most Frequently Asked Questions regarding web accessibility. This way, you can clarify all of your remaining doubts and start planning your next actions towards a more accessible website!
Web accessibility is beneficial to all kinds of people, not only those with disabilities, despite what you may think. However, it focuses on making the digital experience easier for the ones with disabilities, such as people with blindness, low vision, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, deafness, hearing loss, speech disabilities, physical disabilities, and so on.
Aside from them, by making your website accessible you are also aiding people with temporary disabilities. For example, someone who broke their arm or who had an eye surgery and cannot see properly. Also, you are helping to make life more practical and convenient for everyone that simply prefers to use an accessibility resource in a particular moment. For instance, a person in public transportation that does not have headphones and cannot listen to videos at the moment, so they watch it with subtitles.
Well, not exactly, but do not worry, we will explain to you how it all works. For starters, if you run a government website, you must abide by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act guidelines. It “requires federal agencies to develop, procure, maintain and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities – regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government”.
Now, even if you run a non governmental website, you still need to pay attention to web accessibility. Even though there aren’t any enforceable laws related to website accessibility, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken the position that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all public-facing websites used by companies that otherwise qualify as places of public accommodation. This means that websites of businesses with physical stores are considered heavily-integrated with their store locations. Therefore, these websites are expected to meet accessibility standards.
The ADA itself does not provide any guidelines for web accessibility, however the WCAG 2.2 Guidelines is a pretty good guide to follow if your goal is to become ADA compliant. A good tip is to learn and apply the guidelines, or be sure to hire an accessibility specialist developer to ensure your website is accessible.
Yes, you can! If your website is not ADA compliant you are at risk of being sued. Small businesses are big targets for those fines, as most of them do not reach the minimum level of accessibility required. Big companies are also being sued. For instance, in 2021 over 11.000 lawsuits were filed in the United States in violation of the ADA.
Web accessibility is a big deal, as you have probably noticed. Even if you are not a big expert on the matter, taking your first step towards creating a more accessible website is the most important thing right now. If you are still not sure how to start, and are looking for more information about it, be sure to check out our blog!