Opening Doors for Web Accessibility - Part 1 of 3

Making the Web Accessible for All – Part 1: Why Should You Make Your Site Accessible?

Web accessibility is probably not the first thing you think of when kicking off a website project. It may not even be something you consider at all. However, ensuring your website is usable by anyone who visits your site, disabled or not, is a fundamental part of User Experience (UX). Ignoring it means you could be excluding a huge percentage of potential customers.

This article is the first in a series on Making the Web Accessible for All. Part 1 will focus on why you should make your website accessible, while Parts 2 and 3 will provide you with tips, resources and tools for ensuring your site can be used by those with disabilities.

Accessibility is not easy, and there is no “silver bullet” tool or checklist that will instantly make your site accessible to those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning or neurological disabilities. Instead, thinking about users with disabilities and how they will interact with every part of your site must be woven into every step of the process. At KW2, our UX Designers, Art Directors and Developers follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the W3C from site planning to launch.

So, if accessibility isn’t easy, and takes careful planning to carry out, why should you make it a part of your site redesign?

One in five of your customers has a disability
If your site is not accessible to those with disabilities, you’re excluding one in five of your users. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 56.7 million people, or 19% of the population, reported having a disability. Of those:

  • 8.1 million people had difficulty seeing, including 2 million who were blind or unable to see.
  • 7.6 million people experienced difficulty hearing, including 1.1 million whose difficulty was severe. About 5.6 million reported using a hearing aid.
  • 30.6 million people reported mobility issues, such as walking or climbing stairs, and used a wheelchair, cane, crutches or a walker.

Try using your site with just a screen reader or just your keyboard without a mouse. Is it easy to use, with enough information to make a purchase or decision, or is it frustrating? If your site is not accessible, you could be losing every fifth potential customer as they grow frustrated with the experience and leave.

Age-related disabilities are becoming more common
Older web users are one of the fastest growing demographics. According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, people over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing group on social media. And as the Baby Boomer generation ages, an increasing number of Internet users are going to be facing age-related disabilities.

These users may be experiencing vision and hearing loss, in addition to reduced fine-motor control (required for using a mouse or using coordinated gestures to control a touch screen device). Unlike those born with disabilities, these users may not consider themselves disabled, so it’s even more critical to build accessibility into the User Experience of your site, rather than bundle those features under an “Accessibility” link somewhere in the site map.

You may be required by law to be compliant
Does your business have more than 15 employees? If so, you must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requiring that businesses make accessibility accommodations to enable those with disabilities to access the same services as those without disabilities, which includes websites.

Similarly, government agencies must follow Section 508 accessibility guidelines from Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. ADA and Section 508 compliance are different, but both offer guidance to help you make your website more usable for customers with disabilities.

Accessibility benefits all users
Many of the features that help disabled users are simply best practices, and they can be valuable to all site visitors. Some accessibility must-haves, such as appropriate and relevant title tags and descriptive alt tags for images, can improve site Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and help all users find your site quickly.

Thinking about users with disabilities when planning your site ensures your site is accessible for all users, not only those with difficulty seeing, hearing or using a keyboard.

In the next article in this series, we’ll delve into the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and show you what steps to take to make sure everyone can use your website.