Since its explosion in the late 90s, the Internet has proved to be a great asset to individuals, families, commerce, and just about every aspect of life. Shopping for clothes, accessing your bank account, catching up on the day’s news—you use the Internet for all these and more every day.
However, members of the disabled community still face challenges while surfing the net. Web designers have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure all users can access content on their websites.
What is Web Accessibility?
As the term implies, web accessibility relates to everyone’s ability to access the Internet regardless of physical limitations or disabilities. Visually impaired individuals, the deaf, and the elderly who struggle to navigate mobile devices should be able to enjoy all the resources available on the Web. Even those without access to high-speed Internet should be able to access the information, services, or products you offer online.
The ability to access the Web means that barriers preventing different categories of users from accessing and using the Internet are torn down. The Internet should be a place where disabled or temporarily disabled individuals can easily access services and products, just as they would in the physical world. If accessibility is not addressed in the web design process, those with disabilities can face an enormous barrier to accessing the goods and services contained within the site.
Accessibility can be important for temporarily disabled people as well. A web user may have full access today, but a broken arm may leave him or her unable to access your website tomorrow. Other Internet users may find their ability to use this tool diminished by conditions brought about by aging.
Catering to the needs of people with disabilities is enshrined in American law. The year 1990 saw the introduction of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) into civil law. This law made it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability in any sphere of public life. An amendment introduced in 2008 changed the meaning of the word disability and expanded the definition of the spaces in which discrimination could occur. The Internet was introduced in Title IV of the amended act.
In addition to the ADA, there are guidelines to broaden Internet access. Created by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 outlines four critical ingredients for Web accessibility. It recommended that content on the Internet should be:
To ensure your web content meets these standards, you may need to bring in a web development team aware of these guidelines and experienced in implementing them. Find more information on hiring a web development company from New York or another tech-savvy city well-versed with accessibility standards.
If you’re confident in your abilities to improve your site’s accessibility, there are a few things to note:
1. Don’t Skip Over Alt-tags
Alt-tags provide a way for a web developer to let Internet users know what embedded media is on a web page if it fails to load. In this way, web users can make sense of content even if their connection may be too slow to load the picture or video. These tags also enhance your website’s ranking and are, thus, great for SEO.
If you want your alt-tags to work for you, make sure they’re relevant to the image they’re describing and that they’re legible.
2. Testing Accessibility is not Easy
If you were to look at the WCAG guidelines one-by-one to determine whether your site conforms to them, it would be incredibly time-consuming.
You can speed up the testing process significantly by using automated accessibility checkers like WAVE. These can check conformity to the WCAG guidelines by up to 30 percent. You can make up the rest by bringing in auditors or working with people with disabilities directly and getting their feedback.
3. There is No Clear Cut Way to Achieve Web Accessibility
No matter how much you try, you likely won’t be able to make your site 100 percent accessible to all people. Situations change, as does the information’s context on your site. You can use different methods to achieve the WCAG standards, but the lack of firm guidelines and ever-changing scenarios makes it difficult to gauge success.
4. Committing to Accessibility is a Lifelong Commitment
Having a fully accessible site that users of all abilities can comfortably use is a journey, not a destination. The work of keeping your site accessible to all Internet users will go on through the life of the site; it’s not something you set up and then forget about. As you work to keep your site’s content fresh, you should also conduct regular accessibility testing.
The Gift That Keeps Giving
Having a fully accessible website will keep your site in compliance with accessibility guidelines and the ADA law. It will also allow for new business opportunities as you reach out to a previously untapped market. The fact that you care enough to make your site accessible to differently-abled people will endear you to Internet users as a whole and give your firm a caring image.