Website Accessibility: A Little Background

Website Accessibility: A Little Background

Why Your Website Should Comply with Website Accessibility Guidelines

Why Care About Web Accessibility?

The Web has allowed people to conduct a wide range of business and fill their need for news, socializing, and entertainment from the comfort of their own home, office, or mobile device. Unfortunately, when website accessibility isn’t given a high priority, these tasks that most of us take for granted can be extremely difficult for people with certain types of disabilities.

It’s Complex, The American Disabilities Act

Web Accessibility IconThe American Disabilities Act of 1990 was intended to address the needs of people with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. When website owners and operators fail to ensure their sites are developed with proper attention to the needs of people with disabilities, know it or not, they are engaging in a form of discriminatory behavior by keeping people with disabilities from being able to fully access the content of their websites.

We believe very few business owners and website operators would ever knowingly engage in this kind of discrimination, but unfortunately few of them understand the issues or the technical remedies. It’s an additional step owners and operators must take, much like installing accessible restrooms, or ramps and elevator access for people dependent on wheelchairs, or closed-captioning for the hearing-impaired, or visual substitutes for the visually-impaired.

Our Commitment to Online Accessibility

Web accessibility is a complex topic. There are ethical and legal issues as well as technical considerations to take into account. We are committed to developing websites that meet the standards for accessibility as defined by the W3C because we believe not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes the websites easier for everyone to operate as well as improving the chances the website will rank highly in search engine results. In the rest of the article we will go into a little more detail on the background surrounding web accessibility here in Part I of our accessibility piece and then in Part II talk more about the specifics of writing, design, and development that can ensure everyone has equal access to the website.

The Ethics of Website Accessibility

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, as a basic human right. While fundamentally designed to work for everyone, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability, most website owners don’t have the time or resources to ensure their website meets this goal. , it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.

Accessibility supports social inclusion for people with disabilities as well as others, such as older people, people in rural areas, and people in developing countries.

Want to learn more? Watch the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) video.

Though essential for people with disabilities, accessibility is useful for everyone in a variety of situations from making sites search engine and mobile device friendly to making videos understandable with the volume off or easily translatable into other languages. Want to learn more? Watch the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) video included here.

Legal Reasons to Consider Adopting a Website Accessibility Policy

Nearly 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act—the ADA—became law in 1990, websites have become a growing target for lawsuits under the ADA. The majority of these law suits are brought because the websites are not technically accessible to the visually impaired or legally blind.

Over the last two years, the number of lawsuits have more than doubled and show no signs of going away anytime soon. In 2017 there were 814 ADA web accessibility–related lawsuits filed across the United States, a year later, in 2018, there were 2285 cases, a 181% increase.

What is a Website Owner To Do?

So what is the owner and operator of a website to do? Are there any regulations or guidelines in effect that can be followed or implemented so the owner or operator of a website can prevent rather than defend a lawsuit? The answer is complicated, there are no federal regulations in effect, but there are design, writing, and development guidelines issued by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) that can make websites more accessible to people with disabilities and therefore a more difficult target for regulatory grey-area law suits.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Guidelines 2.0 issued in 2008 were the guidelines specifically referenced by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in the case of Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. (2017), where Winn-Dixie’s website was found to have violated the rights of a visually-impaired plaintiff under the ADA.

In April 2018, the W3C proposed updated guidelines, the Web Accessibility Guidelines Level 2.1, to address the evolution of mobile devices and screen readers in relation to website content and accessibility. These, however, are simply guidelines; they are not regulations, nor are they law.

The Business Case for Following Accessibility Guidelines

Beyond the ethical and legal considerations of accessibility, there is also a strong business case to be made for complying with the guidelines. Accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits. If being on the right side of history, and the law, isn’t enough of a reason to take accessibility seriously, just remember there are tangible benefits to be realized in the short-term as well.

What We Recommend Our Clients Do About Website Accessibility

Be Proactive and Ensure New Web and Digital Assets are Developed to Meet the Accessibility Standards

If you are starting a new project it’s important to design with website accessibility in mind and ensure new websites are developed to the latest WCAG Guidelines 2.1. There are several considerations to make when developing to meet the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines. We will cover this topic in greater detail in Part II, but for now, some things to keep in mind include:

Blind person using computer with braille computer display
Blind person using computer with braille computer display and a computer keyboard.

Writing for Web Accessibility

  • Ensure content is well-structured and uses unique page titles and headings to convey meaning
  • Ensure link text is informative and that images all have meaningful text alternatives
  • Create transcripts and captions for video and multimedia assets
  • Generally keep content clear and concise

Designing for Web Accessibility

  • Provide sufficient contrast between foreground and background and don’t rely on color alone to convey information
  • Ensure that interactive elements are easy to identify and navigation options are clear and consistent
  • Ensure that form elements are clearly labeled and interactions provide feedback to users
  • Use semantic structures like headings and spacing to group related content
  • Ensure the site responds to different viewport sizes with designs appropriate to each device size

Developing for Web Accessibility

  • Identify page language and language changes
  • Use mark-up to convey meaning and structure
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes
  • Reflect the reading order in the code order
  • Write code that adapts to the user’s technology
  • Provide meaning for non-standard interactive elements
  • Ensure that all interactive elements are keyboard accessible
  • Avoid CAPTCHA where possible

Perform Web Accessibility Audits and Remediate Issues in a Timely Fashion

Depending on the size of the company and website, there are many suitable strategies for addressing website Accessibility issues. Over the past couple of years many companies have formed that focus on accessibility issues and perform audits and remediation. Their fees range anywhere from $6,000–$30,000 year to consistently monitor and remediate any issues found effecting the website’s accessibility, but under certain conditions these costs can be even higher. These companies offer premium services for large companies and those with extensive liability in the area.

Depending on the severity of the issues, for many small businesses, it can be more cost-effective to rebuild a website completely and take advantage of the opportunity to work with an agency that can build an accessible website from the ground-up—that is, as they say, where we come in. We have over twenty years experience building websites for clients across a wide gamut of industries and brands and are deeply familiar with the underlying technologies that contribute to the development of accessible websites.

Further Consideration

For more information about ensuring your website meets the latest accessibility standards, please contact us via the form below. We are happy to provide you with a free consultation and assist you in determining the best course of action for you.

In Part II we will go into more detail about the types of tools available to check the accessibility of your website along with additional information about the strategies we employ to ensure our websites meet these important standards.

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