Today, we do many of the things online that we used to do at a brick and mortar location. For many people, the idea of standing in line at the bank feels like a thing from the past. Yet, all of the benefits we take for granted in the outside world aren’t always available in the digital one.
Website accessibility is a great example of something that is often overlooked in the digital world. Try and picture a bank with a parking lot that lacked handicapped spaces or a ramp to assist with gaining access to the entrance. Or maybe a heavy door that can’t be automatically opened. Even if you lacked the point-of-view of someone that needed those features, you’d find the lack of those resources to be rather alarming, wouldn’t you? What if those very same types of features were missing from a banking website, or from other crucial online resources you depend on?
Wikipedia defines “web accessibility” as follows:
“Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites on the World Wide Web by people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, generally all users have equal access to information and functionality.”
To put it simply, web accessibility is the attempt to make our digital landscape friendly and accessible to all walks of life. Not everyone is approaching a website under ideal circumstances and they shouldn’t be thwarted by our poor choices in web design. In this day and age, the internet is where much of our commerce happens. You wouldn’t build a storefront that wasn’t accessible to every type of customer that wanted to browse your store, so you shouldn’t be willing to cut corners on your website for that same reason.
While defining web accessibility goes a long way toward helping us understand what it is, I like to pose the concept to uncertain folks in a more pragmatic manner. I explain that when I need to know anything I turn to the internet. I check my email and text messages constantly for important news from friends, family, and even coworkers. I research restaurant options, movie times, and even crucial things like the right dosage of Tylenol for my 2.5-year-old. I shop, read articles, participate in social media, and rely on the internet to do my job.
With that said, approximately 15% of the world’s population experience some type of disability. That’s about 1 billion people who aren’t able to do the things I listed above with ease. Online accessibility is important because it provides access and opportunity to everyone. We no longer live in a world where we consider the internet a luxury. It is, in fact, a public, global utility, and it needs to be available in the same capacity to everyone. It’s that simple.
Luckily, you don’t need to fly blind when it comes to understanding and executing the most fundamental guidelines for creating an accessible online experience. The Web Accessibility Initiation (WAI), a component of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have published something they call their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
First, you should understand that WCAG breaks up its guidelines into “four principles of accessibility.” They break them down as so:
If you find the W3C’s breakdown of their principles a little confusing, you’re not the only one. While it’s important to use the WCAG as a resource to try and recognize the philosophy of web accessibility, it’s also important to implement these concepts in ways you can understand. More important than understanding the W3C’s jargon-filled approach to web accessibility is to actually increase accessibility on your website. I’ve scoured the WCAG document and identified some simple “fixes” that you can employ to immediately improve the accessibility of your website.
As the Web Developer at Blue Grass Integrated Communications, I shy away from using the term “simple fixes” when referring to web development. Instead, I think of them as improvements. Your goal isn’t to apply patches to your site but instead, improve on an already-solid foundation. Here are a few improvements you can easily make to further fall into compliance with the W3C’s accessibility principles.
An alt tag is an “alternative tag” of text that is meant to textually label an element, be it an image, applet, or embedded piece of media. This ensures that individuals with impaired sight can have that descriptive text read to them by their device.
It’s common to add a video to your website but you shouldn’t exclude the swath of visitors that may have trouble with their hearing. To keep your page in compliance with WCAG you must provide captions for any multimedia even if it’s just audio.
Certain disability types may require a text-only page that is completely up-to-date with the main version of your website. A text-only page is a stripped-down variant of your website, devoid of all graphical elements.
The W3C specifically requests that a method be available to skip repetitive navigation on your website. This is meant to help individuals with motor disabilities that would find excessive clicking to be challenging.
You can find more guidelines to help get your website in compliance with the WCAG standards for accessibility here.
It’s not enough to just be good—we’re only interested in greatness. Part of greatness is that it’s a constantly moving target. You can’t just stop once you’ve achieved it. Web accessibility is no different.
Besides, there are many reasons to continue to optimize your web accessibility adherence. For instance, as you fill your website with alt text tags to properly describe all of the non-text elements on your site, you’re also improving your SEO ranking as search engines can now much easier interpret, categorize, and rate your content. And it goes without saying that, as you improve your website to be compatible with all walks of life, you broaden your audience.
I’ve learned that there’s always more you can do as we develop more sophisticated ways of serving online content over our devices. We can’t say we’ve perfected our web accessibility—to say that would in the same breath claim that accessibility as a principle is a finite thing. It’s not that simple—web accessibility is always evolving, both becoming more intuitive and more intelligent. I’m excited to see what the future holds.
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