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The importance of website accessibility is an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in today's society. If your website isn't accessible to all, you create an instant barrier to many users. You also risk alienating a whole demographic who could benefit from whatever product or service you offer.
In addition to this, compliance with the regulations or standards specified in Website Compliance Accessibility Guidelines (*WCAG*) and *ADA* laws are now mandatory in many countries, so if your site is globally accessible, this is something you need to consider.
Lack of accessibility puts everyone at a disadvantage; the business, consumer, organization, and user all benefit from increased accessibility (not just a small minority of people, which is the assumption many people make).
Contrary to popular belief, making your website accessible doesn't only include incorporating text descriptions, offering high contrast color schemes, audio description and increased font size options. Disability isn't the only thing that prevents user engagement. Around 15% of the global population are living with a long-term disability, but the actual percentage of users with accessibility issues is much higher. Some people have temporary healthcare problems (e.g., a broken arm) or can't access a quiet place with suitable lighting or bandwidth.
Older people, website users in developing countries and those living in rural areas should have the same experience as young tech-savvy inner-city users. Problems obtaining a high bandwidth can make some websites virtually impossible to view. There are ways around this which we will discuss later in the article.
Although it's not always practical and takes significantly more effort, implementing strategies to increase accessibility at the very beginning is crucial. When you first start to build your website, the easiest and most effective way to ensure your site is accessible to all users is to consider user experience for all.
You can do this by making sure you have sufficient knowledge of the challenges some people might face. Taking all this into account means you can include the necessary components to accommodate every conceivable need.
If you have an existing website, going back and changing everything after the site has gone live could take you much longer and interrupt your current users' service as you try to adjust the appropriate settings.
Furthermore, suppose your website is already active. In that case, you have an established brand, voice, color scheme and interface, which might not be inclusive to those who experience increased barriers to accessing the information. Changing this after you've already built a customer base could confuse your existing users, creating an additional problem.
For these reasons, it is essential that you implement the appropriate accessibility tools from the very start.
Users who might experience problems accessing information include:
•Users with visual impairments, blindness, or partial sightedness
• Mobility issues such as arthritis or paralysis
• Autism and other cognitive issues
• Dyslexia or dyspraxia and other learning difficulties
• Hearing problems, deafness, or partial deafness
• Older people who are less confident in using technology
• People living in rural areas with insufficient bandwidth, resulting in slow download and upload speeds
• People experiencing short term illnesses which affect their ability to navigate around the site as they usually would
There are many tools available to you to help you maximize your website's accessibility. The best indicator of efficacy is to have a sample of people from each key demographic try to navigate their way around your site and then feedback on any problems they might encounter.
No one person or program is going to be able to identify every potential problem. The end-user should be your key focus throughout the web design process. It will certainly benefit you to allow as many users as possible with varied and diverse needs to test your website before it goes live. This research will ensure that any potential problems can be identified and resolved, resulting in a guaranteed positive user experience once your site is up and running.
There are automated solutions available that can scan your site for potential issues, including websites that allow you to input your existing domain, allowing them to check your site to ensure compliance with WCAG 2.1, ADA, Section 508, AODA, EN 301549, and IS 5568.
There are also websites available that offer AODA training to ensure your organization remains diverse and inclusive. These resources include AODA Website Design, Development, Testing and Auditing. You can access valuable information about some essential accessibility resources at AODA Web Accessibility. These resources include: JAWS for Windows, macOS Voiceover, Microsoft Narrator and NVDA screen reader.
There are also free courses available online to assist you in your website design.
AODA Web Accessibility includes an online certification option that takes only one hour to complete and delivers certification via email upon completion. The benefits of certification are that you will increase your awareness of the barriers some customers may face, avoiding unintentional or indirect discrimination. You can also get a free preliminary audit from AODA Web Accessibility to ensure you adhere to the appropriate accessibility standards.
The AODA requires that you must...
'use reasonable efforts to ensure that your policies, practices and procedures are consistent with the core principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity.' (Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2005, Part II)
You should aim to keep the above in mind when creating your website, considering user experience when building your site from the ground upwards.
From September 13th 2019, the AODA also requires that your website be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. You can remember this by using the acronym POUR.
Solutions for users within your web design could include using semantic markup for content to clarify what information is on the web page and reiterate the necessary details. Screen reader compatibility, text and cursor size options for blind or visually impaired users, as well as inverted colors/light and dark contrast for color blind users, could be helpful.
Video captions and subtitles for the hearing impaired or those who don't have access to a quiet space to work could be something to consider. Text spacing for people with learning difficulties or cognitive issues and increasing the time out period for slower readers or using text to speech options for those who can't read is also a good idea.
Pre-recorded audio descriptive transcripts and audio descriptions are other options for the visually impaired or those who struggle with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and many other learning difficulties. You could also implement keyboard friendliness to improve ease of site navigation by using universally recognized keyboard shortcuts only, such as TAB, SHIFT, SPACE and ENTER.
To improve clarity, you could enhance or replace low-quality images and avoid clutter to ensure a clean and user-friendly interface, ensuring that buttons on forms such as 'next' or 'proceed' are appropriately visible and prominent. Clear, non-ambiguous highlight links will also improve clarity and simplicity of use.
For deaf users or people with hearing difficulties, consider using ALT text on images. Other good tools to include are a reading guide – tagging your PDFs with a reading order tool and dictation or speech recognition for people unable to type. This function is often available as standard on newer or higher specification laptops, but for older models and people using desktop computers, a built-in microphone isn't guaranteed.
The more accessibility options you can provide pre-built into your website, the better, as it ensures your customer isn't forced to spend extra money on unnecessary peripherals such as headsets or external microphones. All these more minor details can go a long way to improving customer engagement and satisfaction.
For people who only have access to limited or slower bandwidths, consider using low detail mode, which will be much faster to load and prevent buffering. The same applies when avoiding auto-play videos. Additionally, this will help people with cognitive issues (e.g. autism) because it can be off-putting or distracting to have unwanted images and sounds playing while trying to read.
Finally, don't forget to make your website mobile compatible. Many website builders (mainly drag and drop websites that don't require you to code HTML from scratch) enable you to view your site on both desktop and mobile mode as you build. Being able to see what the end-user will see once your site goes live means you can ensure it looks and feels professional and intuitive on mobile, tablet and desktop platforms.
These web disability solutions will ensure web usability and compliance with multiple organizations requiring audit and certification for legal reasons.
There are some essential resources available at Accessibility Services Canada, including information about legislation, technical guides, design best practices, social media accessibility advice and accessibility awareness approaches. You can access these via the above link. They have a wide range of valuable resources to ensure you make the right decisions when building your website.
Accessibility doesn't just benefit your consumer or boost your profits…
Many of the tools mentioned above can also be utilized for people in the workplace who spend a lot of time at their computer screens and are required to take regular comfort breaks. (It is generally recommended that employees take nine minutes per working hour away from their screen to minimize adverse health implications). These, of course, are mainly built into scheduled breaks, but clicking a text to speech button now and then could potentially help avoid things like migraines and eye strain. These tools not only benefit the consumer, but they can go towards increasing the productivity of your staff, colleagues and employees, minimizing absence, boosting morale, all of which contribute towards a happier, healthier working environment.
Think of it as the equivalent of getting someone who spends all day on their feet a chair before they become too tired. Understanding and anticipating the needs of others and then implementing strategies to reflect this forethought and insight won't go unappreciated. Many proficient computer users don't realize there are inbuilt solutions that can make their daily routine just that little bit more comfortable.
How can you make sure you get all this right, first time?
It goes without saying that all this is a lot to take in, and you may feel like you have a mountain to climb, which is why this final paragraph is here to put your mind at ease. All these steps can be broken down into more manageable, digestible chunks so that regardless of previous experience, you can virtually guarantee you have all the necessary legal requirements covered.
Just as there are a set of accessibility laws and guidelines for the physical workplace when starting your own business (ramps for wheelchair access, for example), there are an equally important set of rules for the digital realm of your workspace.
More and more business is being conducted online due to certain environmental factors (we are amid a global pandemic), which means we have had to adjust hard and fast to a new and rapidly evolving workplace dynamic).
If you use just one resource to ensure your website is a resounding success in terms of accessibility goals being met, then I would highly recommend visiting the The World Wide Web Consortium.
This site contains the most in-depth, comprehensive, industry-standard set of guidelines, including handbooks which are constantly being updated to reflect the minimum web design and application accessibility rules, regulations and laws. The next release, version 2.2, will be available this year (2021). This site advocates that: 'the web's usefulness and growth depends on its universality… regardless of the software we use, the computer we have, the language we speak, whether we are wired or wireless, regardless of our sensory or interaction modes….stationery or mobile, small or large.'
This, in short, is what we're all hoping to achieve moving forwards, and as the W3C helps to facilitate this change, their standards ensure that 'all the crazy brilliance continues to improve a web that is open to us all' (www.w3.org)