Web accessibility standards ensure that your website is usable to individuals of varying abilities and circumstances. These can include people with different visual abilities, motor skills, hearing capacities, and internet connection speeds.
According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 U.S. adults have some kind of disability. While this figure includes conditions like vision and mobility disabilities, it likely excludes more conditions like chronic pain and ADHD.
That’s why it’s so critical to make your website as accessible as possible at the development level. When you incorporate tools like full keyboard navigation, video transcripts, and larger fonts, your audience can expand far more than you may realize.
Benefits of Web Accessibility
The most apparent benefit of accessible web design is that it makes your website available to a larger audience. At Bridges, providing accommodations for people of varying abilities aligns with our marketing agency values to promote inclusion for all audiences.
Other benefits of web accessibility standards include:
1. Improved experience for individuals with and without disabilities
One of the primary goals of accessibility is to make your website easier to navigate for people with disabilities. From that perspective, these guidelines can also improve the user experience for all visitors to your website.
For example, some people cannot use a mouse and require full keyboard navigation. At the same time, there are users that can use a mouse but prefer keyboard navigation. Giving individuals more flexibility in how they navigate your web presence only helps your audience feel more comfortable on your site.
Plus, enabling full keyboard navigation has additional benefits. When you organize all the elements of your web page in a strict hierarchy, you are improving its structure. That’s very important from a development perspective.
Another example is the use of alternative (alt) text for images. Alt text benefits individuals using screen readers, which will read the alt text aloud to the user. If your blog post has any graphics with text on them, you need to provide alt text so the visually impaired can have a comparable experience to a sighted reader.
Alt text also helps individuals who don’t use screen readers. While standard internet speeds are very fast in some parts of the world, users in other locations may have slow connections. Rather than waiting for images to load, alternative text lets them identify the image before it appears.
2. Increased accessibility expands your marketing reach
According to recent research by the Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice, 96.8% of home pages have WCAG 2 failures.
Depending on your business, those failures might result in losing a significant part of your audience. However, when you improve accessibility, you expand your reach to include larger numbers of people, including potential customers. Improving accessibility not only expands your audience, but also improves your digital marketing strategy by diversifying your target market.
People with varying abilities have specific product and service needs that your business may be able to provide. By improving the user experience on your site, you increase access to this market, boosting business activity and generating referrals.
When you increase accessibility to your site, users will find your content more easily and are more likely to return. In addition, properly marked-up semantic structure, well-labeled images, and properly-formatted links will make your content more easily discovered by search engines.
Implementing accessibility standards is a procedure that crosses over with technical SEO — an absolute website must-have. That’s another reason for why accessibility is so essential: WCAG standards produce semantic web content that provides benefits that go beyond improved website access.
3. Increased accessibility helps you avoid lawsuits
Web accessibility lawsuits are growing in the United States, tripling from 814 to 2,258 between 2017 and 2018. Even entertainers like Beyoncé Knowles were included in some high-profile web accessibility cases, increasing awareness of the issue among the general public.
While we believe it’s important to keep accessibility in mind for the end user, it’s important to note you can face legal trouble if you don’t maintain compliance with these standards.
Website Accessibility and the ADA
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990 to address and end discrimination toward individuals with disabilities. While the ADA does not explicitly address online compliance, Title III requires that every owner, lessor, or operator of a “place of public accommodation” provide all users with equal access.
Some courts across the United States have ruled that commercial websites are places of public accommodation and are therefore subject to ADA rules. Other cases have ruled that websites are bound by ADA regulations if the website is near a physical location. It should be noted, however, that no current overarching U.S. federal statutes are in place.
People with disabilities, specifically those who are blind or visually impaired, have been filing lawsuits against businesses over website accessibility issues, and many of them were winning. In 2018 there were 10,163 federal cases regarding ADA and websites. In CA there were 4,249, that's a 54% increase in CA from 2017 to 2018.
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How to Improve Website Accessibility
The biggest rule of thumb is to aim for inclusive design when developing your website. That means that you check that your site and any related products work with third-party assistive technologies such as screen magnifiers, speech recognition software, and screen readers.
Here are some guidelines to consider when creating and maintaining your website:
1. Ensure users can use full keyboard navigation
Enable keyboard navigation so users can access all sections without using a mouse. Besides helping individuals with limited motor movements, full keyboard navigation may be helpful to users that prefer to use their keyboard.
2. Make sure your text is crystal-clear
There are hundreds of thousands of fonts available for use on your website. While some of them are aesthetically beautiful, it’s best to skip the fancy ones and go for fonts that are simple and easy to read. In addition, make sure the sizes are large enough to be read on all mobile devices.
3. Use colorblind-friendly combinations
Color blindness is more common than most people think. That’s why it’s important to avoid relying on color to differentiate elements. Besides choosing colorblind-friendly combinations, another best practice is to add labels to website features to ensure everyone understands the content.
4. Order content using HTML
5. Correctly label all links
Use explanatory link text so visitors can differentiate between link destinations using assistive technologies. In addition, it’s a good practice to underline all clickable links for individuals with visual impairments.
6. Use tools to improve accessibility
Try using automated accessibility tools to stay compliant with the ADA and WCAG. Tools like accessiBe leverage AI to perform UI and design-related adjustments to ensure your website is accessible to the broadest possible range of users.
For instance, we started rolling out accessiBe plans to our Enterprise-level clients as part of our web foundations package.
7. Include an accessibility statement
Add an accessibility statement on your website to provide users with information about the accessibility of your content. Besides showing you care, an accessibility statement demonstrates commitment to inclusion and social responsibility.
Typically, accessibility statements are written in clear, easy to understand language that outlines the standards the site follows. In this you would also call out any exceptions you need to make to the level of accommodations offered, as well as a point-of-contact for accessibility-related questions and comments.
Improving website accessibility has many benefits…and it’s the right thing to do.
Creating accessible web content improves the coding of your website, increases marketing reach, and boosts SEO.
But at the heart of it all, it’s simply the right thing to do.
Improving digital accessibility puts your content in front of as many people as possible. Whether it’s someone that’s visually impaired, hard of hearing, or needs some additional support while navigating your content, it’s essential to ensure your website is accessible to everyone!
Bridges is here to help. Send us your website, and we’ll send a reply with some recommendations that will set a solid foundation for better website accessibility.
Michelle Tabor is a self-taught developer with experience creating websites, themes, web apps, and integrations for a variety of platforms. Her tech journey began all the way back in 2004 when she had to make her Myspace have glitter and gifs. When she’s not solving problems, Michelle spends her time spoiling her dogs, Starbuck and Marlo, and traveling the country timing 5ks and triathlons.