What is web accessibility?

two people interacting with a smart device

Today, nearly everything we do has some presence on the internet, and sometimes the things we do exists only on the internet. Since we use the internet for everything from enjoyment to employment, it is very important that everyone has the same access to the it. While it may be easy for many of us to navigate the websites and apps that we use in our daily lives, not designing these sites and apps with web accessibility in mind leaves many users with disabilities unable to enjoy or benefit from them the same way as others do. According to the World Wide Web Consortium, "Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging." In simpler terms, web accessibility means that whether someone is blind, deaf, has motor difficulties, cognitive disability, etc., they will have a way to easily access the content on websites and apps they may use. Web accessibility simply cannot be ignored, because according to The World Health Organization, "Over a billion people, about 15% of the world's population, have some form of disability."

Though it may seem like web accessibility pertains to only those who have disabilities, there are many reasons creating accessible websites and apps can benefit everyone. First of all, we must understand that there are three modes of disability. A permanent disability refers to something such as blindness or deafness, a temporary disability means that you may have had an injury that causes temporary impairment, or a situational disability, which refers to one's internet abilities being impaired because of slower internet speed or relying on mobile devices to navigate the internet. Not only do those with one of the types of disabilities benefit from web accessible design, everyone else does as well, because accessible websites are optimized better, meaning they load faster, which is beneficial to the user and also the website owner because this means people are more likely to return. Accessible websites, because of factors like semantic markup and alt tags, have better search engine optimization, meaning they rank higher in search engines, making them more visible to those searching on search engines like Google.

There are many ways to design with accessibility in mind, and while it is impossible to ensure that a website is always 100% accessible to everyone, there are many things that can greatly improve most user's experiences on the web. According to the World Health Organization, "285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision." To increase the number of visually impaired users who can access the websites they need, there are things that can be done such as ensuring that the website can be accessed with a screen reader, having a zoom feature to make elements larger, having the ability to use text-to-speech, and offering descriptions of content that those with no or low vision would be unable to recognize. For those with other vision based impairments such as colorblindness, simple things such as underlining links so that the user won't have to rely on color to recognize it can greatly benefit the user and allow them to easily navigate a website as needed. The World Health Organization states that there are 466 million people worldwide who have disabling hearing loss, so for those users things such as transcribed audio and descriptive text to describe sounds happening on videos or during animations on a website can allow the user a complete experience. For users who have some sort of physical impairment, whether it be permanent or temporary, ensuring a website can be navigated using a keyboard or even speech recognition, are just a few things that can allow them to navigate a website without the fine motor control needed to navigate with a mouse. These are just a few ways to improve the experience of just a few groups of people, but for a more complete understanding of the things to consider when working towards creating an accessible site, you can refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

While web accessibility makes sense because it is simply the right thing to do, it also makes sense from a business standpoint. As we mentioned earlier, making your website accessible means a better performing website and an easier to find website, and you can improve your sales when your website is usable by the nearly 20% of the world's population who has some sort of disability. If you count those with situational disabilities, that even further increases your sales potential. It also makes sense because people value websites that offer the inclusion of web accessibility higher than those that are less accessible. In fact, a recent study has shown that 62% of consumers prefer to purchase from businesses who take a stand on important issues, such as web accessibility, and 47% will leave if they are unhappy with a companies words and actions on important issues, which in this case could mean if your website does not offer inclusion to those who have disabilities, you may lose potential customers. It is also less expensive to have an accessible website built rather than maintaining and upgrading an existing, less accessible website, meaning your business can save money over time as you find it necessary to offer more accessibility over time to reach more potential users.

These are just a few of the ways that web accessibility can be attained, and as we said above, there is no way to be completely accessible all of the time as our technology evolves, but working towards web accessibility is the right thing to do and it is important to stay on top of the advancements that can help to reach that goal. If you have an idea for an accessible website and you want to make it a reality, reach out to us at [email protected]! We're located in the New Albany, Indiana, Southern Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky area, but we're happy to help anyone who needs us!

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