Have you ever tried to access content and been denied because you were viewing desktop content on a mobile device? Or perhaps the content was not available, because of the country you were accessing it from? If the answer is 'Yes', then you would of experienced a deny of accessibility.
What is web accessibility?
The internet is providing unprecedented access to information, interaction, goods and services for anyone who has the ability to access. This is why it’s so important to design and build inclusive web applications which cater to everyone because to not, would simply deny people their basic rights.
When technology is designed for everyone it lets everyone do what they love to do without limitations. - Sady Paulson, Video Editor & Presenter living with Cerebral Palsy.
Accessible to Everyone means producing web applications that function correctly on any device, at different internet speeds and with an accessible design.
How big is the issue?
When people think about accessibility in web design, quite often they might picture a minority group of individuals with a severe permanent disability, when actually, it effects a much broader group. This group can be up to 30% of your audience and higher if you target the over 65’s market. There are four main categories of disability (hearing, vision, cognitive and physical) and any person can be affected by any of these, at varying stages of their life. For example, a person may be temporarily disabled such as breaking a bone or having blocked ears. This would impact their ability to complete tasks the same way they would have prior to their temporary disability. As you can see, the majority audience for your website application is diverse and requires an accessible design to support them at all times.
To design and build a website application that is accessible is doing everyone a favour, including yourself or the client who is paying you to create it. If a website is accessible, then the success rate of that website is going to be higher than the version of it that was designed without accessibility in mind. According to the World Health Organization more than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability, or about 15% of the world’s population (based on 2010 global population estimates). Imagine if you could improve your website traffic by 15% by simply improving its accessibility to everyone?
15% live with disability - World Health organisation 2010
Accessibility is not just about increasing web traffic, think of the positive ratings! By producing accessible web applications you might be helping someone achieve a higher education or participate in the workforce, which in the big picture helps the economy and increases quality of life of community members. Wow, isn’t that great ? Who would have conceptualised that design modifications could have such a profound impact on our world?
What can you do?
Making your website or web application accessible, is not just about ticking compliance boxes at the end of development. While this approach is better than not meeting any accessibility requirements, it does not guarantee a high level of success for your web application. Once it is live and can often be a costly approach involving design rework. My suggested approach follows three primary mantras:
Design for accessibility before you build
Rule number one is to meet accessibility requirements in the initial concept and prototype phase. This will make your stakeholders happy as you won’t have to rework your design in final stages of development which can often cause project delays.
Audit for accessibility at multiple project stages
I suggest to have accessibility at the forefront of your design thinking during initial concepts, prototypes, again during development and of course before launch in final testing.
Test with real people with real disabilities
Whenever possible, engage with your local disability support community and conduct facilitated tests of your work during the initial design and development phases. Not only is this a great process for User Experience, it will enable you to get feedback on the accessibility of the design before it is launched. This enables you to rectify any issues early. Remind yourself if the website doesn’t work for the audience, then the website doesn’t work.
You also can’t forget the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as they are important and should be met to the highest level possible. WCAG has four key principles - Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. The v2.0 standard of the guides was first released in 2008 and has stood the test of time. Some government departments do a great job of enforcing that the guides be met. What would be great is if every website not only met the v2.0 requirements, but took it a step further and met the new v2.1 guides as well - which are not yet recognised by many government departments. As v2.0 has aged, technology has changed and while everything in v2.0 still applies, v2.1 adds to it to fill in the known gaps with newer technology. You can read up on the latest in v2.1 on the W3C website.
If you are feeling inspired now to make more accessible websites and web applications, then I have achieved my goal of writing this article. It is my mission to help make the internet an inclusive web and you can help too simply by sharing this post to a friend, or on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!
Jacinta spoke on this topic at StripeCon NZ 2017. If you want to see the full video and inform yourself about web accessibility even further, you can see it below!