Imagine for a minute that you’re cruising along the freeway. You notice something isn’t quite right - there are signposts, but they’re not coloured and they have no writing. No posted speed limits. No distance to the next township. Nothing. How do you navigate to your destination before you’re out of fuel? Unnerving as it may seem, this is the experience most people with a disability are met with when navigating the web.
This is why website accessibility is so important. It’s more than just a checkbox you need to tick off. And it’s more than just a standard you need to meet. It’s the difference between someone being able to easily navigate your site and find the information they need - or them leaving in frustration.
Website accessibility, at a glance
Essentially, website accessibility is about all web users being able to enjoy equal access to the information and functionality they require. Whether including people with a disability or from different socio-economic backgrounds, equal accessibility happens when websites are correctly designed and developed, which we’ll get into in a moment.
Who decides what’s equal?
Equality is a human right - so it’s not so much decided as it is predetermined. However, the web still has a lot of catching up to do. Helping fast track this process is the Web Accessibility Initiative who implemented the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.
This is where some of the challenges websites of today occur. Web accessibility standards such as WCAG2.0AA are guidelines for creating an equal experience for browsers of all abilities and backgrounds - not cold hard rules. To put this in perspective, adhering to web accessibility standards is a must have for all government websites - not just in Australia either. But for many businesses, it’s a nice to have.
To ensure they adhere to these guidelines, which are quite limiting in terms of real world practicality, a developer could use a site like cynthiasays.com to see whether or not their site is compliant with the standards. It’s a step in the right direction, but a far cry from actually being accessible.
The difference between passing WCAG tests and being accessible
First and foremost, passing an automated test such as WCAG2.0AA is not the same as being accessible. Let’s get specific. Take the below image of a cup of coffee. We could ALT Tag it with “cup of coffee” and that gets the job done. But if you couldn’t see the image, and the ALT Tag was all you had - just how helpful is “cup of coffee”?
A better and more helpful description would be “white cup of coffee with swan foam art”. So now when a screen reader processes the tag, blind and visually impaired people know exactly what’s on the page. Sure, it might not be a cup of coffee. It might be a submit button, call to action, or even hyperlink to the page that contains information on their upcoming doctor’s appointment.
Other small changes like the ALT Tag that make a huge difference to someone who has a visual impairment include:
- High contrast colours, text and background
- Easy to read typography (when a visitor zooms their browser to 200% is content visible and readable?)
- Alternative text for any not text content. This isn’t just good for people with a disability, it’s great for SEO too.
Consider WCAG2.0AA part of good UX planning
In a past article on website accessibility (you can read that one here), we touched on the idea of treating the WCAG2.0AA guidelines as a baseline, rather than something that’s completed towards the end of your build.
By placing a bigger emphasis on accessibility, you’re inherently improving the user experience of your site. This isn’t a new idea, in fact Google has been beating the “build sites for people, not search engines” drum for quite some time - and it’s a beat we’re marching to.
Wondering how your website measures up? If you’re serious about having a website that’s truly accessible (beyond simply WCAG2.0AA), drop us a line to discuss our Accessibility Audits. We use a combination of automated tools, static code analysis and screen readers to get a full picture of your website’s accessibility score.