Website Accessibility and Its Importance
In an ideal world, everyone should be able to receive the same opportunities, access the same information, and enjoy the same opportunities online. To help ensure that, all businesses are required by law to follow the standards set by the American Disabilities Act of 1990. And to be fair, most companies comply with this.
Except in one area – the digital world. Because of the importance of the digital world in our lives, it only makes sense that businesses need to ensure equal access online. If we were to run an ADA compliance audit on your business, what would the result be? Are you really providing equal access and opportunity to everyone, regardless of ability?
Why Accessibility is Important
Obviously, web accessibility is important because it’s the law. Not complying with this leaves your company vulnerable to a lawsuit. But that’s not the only reason why.
Let’s say you have a small shop. You need to make sure that people in wheelchairs are able to physically enter your store, or that your establishment is welcoming to guide dogs. In addition, you need to make sure that your price tags are clearly marked and easily read. Lastly, ensure that all of the products are within easy reach and organized in such a way that everything is easy to find.
So, why is all of that important? One, it allows anyone to shop at your store which increases your customer base. Two, it enhances your customer’s experience which makes them happy. A happy customer is a loyal customer. Three, it prevents loss of revenue. If you’re inaccessible, you run the risk of losing customers to competitors. The same applies for company websites.
Web accessibility, in the simplest terms, is ensuring that your website and digital tools can be used by everyone, regardless of their abilities or what hardware/software they are using. Anyone should be able to go to your website or download your forms, videos or tools. Take note that web accessibility is composed of several categories such as email accessibility, web browser accessibility, and application accessibility. We’ll discuss that more later. First, let’s break down what the law says about web accessibility.
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is a civil rights law created in 1990 that prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities. This law ensures that all disabled individuals receive the same opportunities and access as everyone else.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act states that all Federal government agencies in the US must ensure that disabled individuals are able to access their Electronic and Informational Technology (EIT). Any information and communication technology that an agency develops, acquires, or uses must be accessible to employees with disabilities as well as all members of the public.
What is WCAG?
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These web accessibility guidelines were created using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) process through the cooperation of various individuals and organizations around the world. Their purpose is to provide organizations with guiding principles on how to make their websites and digital tools accessible to all.
What is VPAT?
The VPAT or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template is a self-disclosing document that details a product or service’s compliance with Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is used by information and communication technology (ICT) vendors.
Web accessibility is not just about designing an accessible website. It includes all digital tools and information including email. Email accessibility means that all your emails must be easily received, read, understood, and interacted with by the recipient, regardless of user capabilities or the assistive device he/she may be using.
Web Browser Accessibility
This is also known as web page accessibility. In order for a web browser to be accessible, it’s interface must be easy to navigate and use for people with disabilities. For example, it must be compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. It must also be keyboard accessible to ensure that individuals who are not able to use a mouse can still navigate and interact with the website. Moreover, the web content must be accessible as well (i.e. easy to understand).
Your content should always be accessible. And we don’t just mean web content. The content in your documents must also be accessible, regardless of the format of your document (i.e. HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF). This means that the document must be easily readable, even for individuals with visual impairments. For example, your document must be compatible with a screen reader. Any images, charts, and embedded objects must include alternative texts that provide a description. Use meaningful hyperlinks. Accessible PDF documents also are important.
Application accessibility refers to the creation of accessible software which means that your application or software must be usable even for individuals with disabilities. While there are different platforms and types of applications, there are general guidelines that should be followed by all. For example, configurability. This refers to the functionality of a software that enables a user who does not need assistive technologies to configure the settings. Let’s say that a person is hard of hearing. He should be able to adjust the volume of the notifications or alarms of the application, so that he can hear it. Or, someone who has low vision should be able to adjust the size of the font, so that he can more easily read the text.
What is the Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement?
The Accessibility Statement is a written statement that informs your customers of your company’s commitment to following the standards of web accessibility and thereby ensuring that your website and digital tools can be used by all, regardless of their capabilities. It also presents information on the level of accessibility that you are aiming for, what has been achieved, and how it was achieved. The Accessibility Guide, on the other hand, informs your customers on how they can use adaptive equipment to access the website as well as temporary solutions available if web accessibility has not yet been achieved.
Web accessibility is not just about making your business safe from lawsuits and boosting your revenue. It’s about creating a world without barriers, ensuring that everyone feels welcome everywhere. That everyone enjoys the same privileges. No one is left out or left behind. Including your business.
About Author: David Gevorkian – CEO/Founder.
David started Be Accessible because of his passion for website accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions creating websites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating web interfaces usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.