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Why Make Websites Accessible?

By Shaumik Daityari

Is your web content “accessible” to all? If not, how many users could it possibly affect?

Web Accessibility is the process of developing applications that are adequately usable by the broadest range of users, regardless of their abilities. I believe you can probably answer the questions now. If your answer is “No”, you have come to the right place.

At SitePoint, we have talked about how you can make your web content accessible. However, it’s quite possible that no one has ever told you why you should consider putting forth the effort to make your content accessible — especially when your website is working “just fine”!

Disabilities and the use of Assistive Technology

Have you ever heard of the term Assistive Technology (AT)? Even if you haven’t, let me show you an example of the most used Assistive Technology:

Eye Glasses

Surprised? Most likely you, or at least someone in your family, wears glasses or contact lenses. Now comes the question: if eyeglasses are AT, do you have a disability?

In a way, yes. Long- or short-sightedness is a disease that prevents you from experiencing the world like everyone else and the use of eyeglasses corrects that disability.

Imagine how you would react if you logged on to a website and it didn’t work for people using eyeglasses.

Common disabilities and associated AT

Although a simple short-sightedness that has been corrected by the use of eyeglasses doesn’t really affect the use of computers, there are many other disabilities.

  • Visual disabilities: People with complete or partial blindness use the keyboard for navigation and rely on screen readers that read the text on web pages. Those with color blindness need high contrast in web pages to distinguish elements.
  • Motor: Users with motor disabilities have difficulty controlling a mouse with precision, which is why they need to control the computer using a keyboard. To help those with this disability, web pages should be completely navigable through the keyboard.
  • Auditory: Users who are deaf or hard of hearing fall under this category. Alternative text for all audio elements should be provided to assist these ones.
  • Cognitive and Neural: Individuals under this category usually must not be subjected to flickering content. In addition they are often restricted to keyboard-only use to navigate websites.

You might have difficulty in perceiving how things might feel for a person with some disability. Allow me to demonstrate using an example. Consider how a web page might appear to a color blind person.

Color Blind example for award page

And here is how it would look to a person without color blindness:

How the award looks to a non-blind person

Above comparison inspired by Jared Smith’s talk on Web Accessibility.

Now that I have been able to give you a glimpse into the world of disabilities and the need to implement accessibility principles, you might also benefit from reading stories of web users with different disabilities and how they overcome the same using AT.

A simple statistic

8.5% of the population has a disability that prohibits computer use. They rely on Assistive Technology to correct this. But is that enough? Why the need to go that extra mile to make your websites accessible?

By comparison, in January 2010 IE6 represented about 10% of the global browser market share. At the time, developers were still taking great strides to make their websites work in IE6. This involved tweaks that required a high level of understanding of how browsers work. Accessibility guidelines are far easier to follow, and we’re basically helping almost the same percentage of users, but for a much better cause.

The law

You should also consider the laws in your country before deciding that web accessibility isn’t going to be part of your workflow.

In 1999, Bruce Lindsay Maguire, a blind user found the Sydney Olympic Games official website inadequately accessible and filed a case against them. He won $20,000 AUD as a result. Here’s the story of the case of Maguire vs SOCOG in detail if you are interested.

Different countries have different laws that require websites hosted in their jurisdictions to follow certain guidelines. However, there is no single international body that regulates these laws.

I mention the law because you should not make your content accessible just because you want to comply with the law, primarily because the law only specifies certain rudimentary guidelines. Your websites can be compatible with the law yet still be highly inaccessible.

Resources and Final Thoughts

As mentioned earlier, here at SitePoint I’ve covered the topic of web accessibility in detail before. Here are some examples:

In short, ensuring web accessibility in your web content is a relatively easy task, especially when your web pages have a simple structure. However, sitting on the computer making small modifications to your existing website is also a boring task.

You should therefore treat web accessibility just as yet another task that you should perform (like SEO for instance). You could also work with your designers to create or modify designs that encourage accessibility. Treating web accessibility as a component of your development cycle will only make the whole process more pleasant!

Another important observation is that accessibility is time dependent. Standards change over to accommodate the best practices and you must evolve to keep up. If your website was accessible last year, it may not be adequately accessible today. Did you check it recently?

As I’ve demonstrated, web accessibility is certainly worth the effort. If you have any thoughts on how you incorporate accessibility into your workflow, let us know in the comments.

Comments
KBD

An interesting article, Shaumik.

With the growth of speech-activated devices (Kinect, Siri, Cortana, etc), would you group speech defects as accessibility issues? Sometimes these aren't due to cognitive or neural issues; they could be caused by physical damage (vocal cord damage, muscle weakness, respiratory weakness, etc.), or could well be a limitation of the software itself (e.g., Siri not understanding a Scottish person saying "Jammie dodger"). It feels logical that we see more applications, and websites, using speech as part of the user experience as it'll make things like search feel more intuitive and could itself be seen as an assistive technology for people with certain cognitive or learning difficulties.

mikey_w

"You have won $1,000"

Awesome example!!! thumbsup

sdaityari

I wrote this with the point of view of web applications. But speech based disabilities could definitely be grouped separately. It would qualify as a disability because you are not able to communicate like everyone else.

Although I can't think of any specific AT for speech disabilities, if there's an alternative to the speech based inputs (like entering through a keyboard), I think the problem of accessibility is solved (as it's about giving equal opportunities to everyone).

But your point about using speech as an AT is another fresh perspective that didn't come to my mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts smile

sdaityari

Thanks Mikey!

Here's another good example that Jared Smith talks about.

StevieD

The good news is that a lot of the ways to make your website more accessible are really easy - they simply involve not filling it full of fancy-pants ways to recreate basic native browser functionality (ie, crap).

Yes, content accessibility can sometimes need additional thought and work - for example, avoiding reliance on colour or images - but function accessibility is more often than not available through standard HTML. It's when webbists try to show off or use frameworks that they don't understand that it really starts to go pear-shaped.

sdaityari

Totally agree with you! In such cases, the SEO may suffer too.

johnsexton

Good article and some interesting comments.

Other assistive tech I'd like to add are: voice control, touch screens and specialist input devices like eye tracking or click switching. Each offering a different way to interact with the web UI.

Multiple imparements are an area I feel often over looked in accessibility, so for people who may have both sight and hearing imparements are most likely to use refreshable Braille displays. Or people may use multiple assistive technology together to gain access to the web.

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