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Everything You Need to Know About Web Accessibility

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
Web Accessibility

If you’re thinking about opening a clothing store or having a brick-and-mortar store for your business, we’re sure you’d want everyone to be able to enjoy your store to the fullest. You would want to design your store in a way that people with any kind of handicap will also be able to access and enjoy it. Having ramp entrances for wheelchairs, keeping enough space between racks, and having staff that understands the needs of the disabled are some of the ways of accomplishing it, and most stores around the world adhere to it.

Then why don’t people apply the same logic while building a website for their business? Wouldn’t you want people who have cognitive or physical limitations or impairments to enjoy your website? One way to accomplish this is to make your website which includes the navigation, structure, format, and written as well as visual content accessible to everyone. Thus, you need to give priority to web accessibility.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility is the process that makes a website accessible to everyone, including people with any kind of disability, limitation, or impairment. It includes some design principles that make sure that when you’re designing your website you do not forget people with disabilities and make sure when your website is published it gives the same or similar experience to everyone. Having accessibility as a goal for your website is a good way to show your business stands for inclusion and make sure to give a good experience to people with or without disabilities. Now that we’ve understood the basic principle of accessibility, let’s explore it in detail-

  • Who manages web accessibility?

We’re sure you must be wondering who takes care of the web accessibility initiative and who does all the work to make sure web accessibility guidelines are enforced. There are certain members in the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who take care of penning and enforcing the guidelines around web accessibility which falls under Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

  • Why must you care about web accessibility?

As already explained above, web accessibility allows you to design your website being cognizant of the fact that all kinds of people would like to use your website, thus you make it so that it’s easily accessible for everyone, including people who have any kind of temporary or permanent disability such as cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, low vision, blindness, hearing loss, deafness, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, and more.

If you have a website that follows the rules and guidelines of web accessibility then it allows everyone, including people with disabilities, to enjoy your website to the fullest. Giving this kind of thought to accessibility for everyone allows you to deliver a good user experience (UX) and shows the people that you care. It also helps build a good image for your brand name and boosts your brand loyalty.

  • How is web accessibility enforced?

If we go strictly by rules then there aren’t any which enforce you to include accessibility for all while building a website, unless you’re building a government website, where it’s necessary to include web accessibility. However, just because web accessibility is not enforced does not mean that your business is safe from any lawsuits that might come your way if your business avoids making your website accessible to everyone. There are a lot of examples of companies who have faced a lawsuit where people found it offensive that their website is not accessible for people with disabilities or where someone with a disability found it difficult to access a brand’s website.

There was an increase of 181% in the number of cases filed between the year 2017-18 where people had a problem with a website not being accessible to people with disabilities. For example, there was a court case that made it essential that businesses with public accommodations would fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It makes it essential for businesses that have brick-and-mortar stores to make their website accessible for people with disabilities, especially if their website contains directions to the physical store. This is important so people can find their way to the physical store without any issues.

In one other case, Dominoes was sued by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who found it difficult to order food using Domino's website even after using the screen reading software. Robles won the case where the court found Dominoes to be a franchise that falls under the ‘public accommodations’ bracket and failed to provide web access to people with disabilities under ADA.

So, even if it doesn’t apply to your brand- we recommend you make sure your website is accessible to all as it helps build a stronger brand image and customer loyalty. It shows that your brand cares about people with disabilities. If you want to make sure your brand succeeds in including web accessibility then make sure you abide by WCAG I.e., Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Web Accessibility Standards and How to Apply Them

According to the latest guidelines by WCAG, any website that wants to incorporate web accessibility in its design needs to follow the four basic principles and apply these rules on its website whenever or wherever possible on your site. WCAG also provides several specific guidelines for each of the four principles. Let’s explore these four basic principles and how to apply them to your website in the best possible way.

1.  Perceivable

Under this principle, you have to make sure that the user can “perceive”, understand, or be aware of the content that you’ve presented on your website. Perceiving the content doesn’t necessarily mean that the user should be able to see the content, as it’s not possible for people who have blindness or a low vision disability.

However, what perceiving the content means is that the user should be able to understand the content by other means such as screen reader software, which would help convert the text into braille characters, or synthesized speech which would help the user understand/hear what’s written on the screen.

How to Apply: Guidelines for perceivable web accessibility

  • Offer alternatives for text on your site. There must be a text alternative for every non-text element on your page, including photographs, videos, and audio files, so that people who are blind may interpret it. The most popular method for complying with this recommendation is to use image alt text, and it is advised that you do so for any non-decorative images on your website. Include the alt attribute for ornamental images but leave it empty.
  • Provide alternate options for time-based media consumption. Audio and video elements are also included in time-based media. The most popular approach for audio content is a complete transcript of the tape. Use captions that are correctly synchronized to the audio for videos. Both of these are useful for users with weak hearing.
  • Adaptable content structure refers to designing your HTML files in a way that the intended information and structure would not be lost if the page styling were to be removed. For instance, even if you strip-pack the page design, utilizing appropriate headings, sorted and unordered list components, and bold and italic text all convey information.
  • Make your material simple to read and hear. For sighted people, it's crucial to use color contrast so that everyone can read your content and grasp any visual information you wish to express, including those who are color blind. Users should also be able to change any background music playing on your website or stop it altogether.

2.  Operable

The use of functional websites is possible without interfering in any way with the user. Every feature of the website's functionality is accessible to all users, including page navigation, link selection from a menu, and the ability to play and pause audio and video. In general, the most usable websites are plain, uncomplicated, and devoid of any unnecessary functionality that can obstruct users with disabilities and limits.

How to Apply: Guidelines for Operable Web Accessibility

  • Ensure total functionality using the keyboard. Not everyone can use a mouse. As a result, only the keyboard should be able to access every feature on your website. For instance, the enter/return key should "click" the element that is in focus while the tab key should allow users to jump between selectable elements on the page.
  • Give visitors enough time to interact with your website. Give users an appropriate amount of time to read, watch, and interact with your site's various kinds of content. Users should be able to extend or cancel any time-limited actions on your website. This rule also applies to drop-down menus that are accessible: It's the best practice to set a time delay before the menu disappears if a user disengages from the menu with the mouse, in case they unintentionally hover off.
  • Avoid material that blinks or flashes more than three times per second; this can cause seizures, according to the W3C. When possible, avoid this, or at the very least give a heads-up.
  • Provide directions so people may find their location and where they can go. Users can tell where they are on your website and which elements are links by looking at the page title, the links themselves, the keyboard focus indicator, and the headings themselves.

3.  Understandable

Visitors should be able to quickly understand all of your website's material, including its textual and graphic design content. Verbose, jumbled language is not only difficult for your average visitor to understand, but it also restricts access for those who have cognitive issues and impairments as well as visitors who do not speak the primary language of your website.

This idea also applies to the organization of your website. Your website's navigation should be easily accessible to users on most, if not all, of your pages, and it should be organized logically.

How to apply: guidelines for understandable web accessibility

  • Text content should be readable. When creating your content, take into account the entire range of your possible audience. As many readers as you should be able to understand your writing, especially those who are learning the language of your website. When possible, stay away from using extremely technical language and local slang.
  • Systematically organize your site's pages. Place your navigational links and pages in a method that most people would anticipate when organizing the structure and navigation of your website. This includes positioning the navigation above the fold, most often in the page's header (and footer).
  • Write helpful error messages. Nobody likes to see an error message, so provide visitors clear information on how to fix their errors and a description of the error.

4.  Robust

All visitors to your website, including those who use assistive technology like screen readers, should be able to understand and consume the material with ease. This idea essentially means that you should write your HTML in a way that allows assistive technology to read it without a visual reference.

How to apply: guidelines for robust web accessibility

  • Write parsed HTML. Assistive technologies frequently use a web page's HTML file to convert its contents into another format. Because of this, the HTML code for your pages must be well-written. When necessary, start and end tags should be used for accessibility, and duplication IDs across elements and duplicate attributes inside the same HTML tag should be avoided.

Now that you are aware of what online accessibility is, why it's crucial, and the regulations that apply to it, let's have a look at some tools you can use to help make your website more accessible.

Web Accessibility Tools

Today, a number of tools for testing web accessibility are available. We also have our own list of suggested tools. W3C has created and provided a list of them on their website for you to learn more about and compare to one another.

We've highlighted a few options below for the purpose of this article to show you what these accessibility tools are capable of.

1.  WAVE

WAVE is a famous web accessibility evaluation tool by WebAIM that allows one to check if their website complies with the guidelines of web accessibility. The WAVE tool offers a visual representation of the area of your website that can be considered difficult to access by people with a handicap. To use this tool, all you have to do is enter the URL of the website you want you to want to evaluate in the address bar, and the WAVE tool will highlight the areas of the website that do not comply with the WCAG standards and also provides a human audit to review the content on your website.

2.  DYNO Mapper

DYNO Mapper is a sitemap generator by Indigo Design Company LLC that one can use to evaluate if a website is accessible to all or not. This tool is a sitemap generator which means that it uses sitemaps to show the accessibility of a website with the help of keyword tracking, conducting content audits, and conducting content inventories. DYNO mapper also provides in-depth analyses with identifiable areas for accessibility improvement by integrating with Google Analytics. This tool can be used to test all kinds of sites be it public, online, or private apps.

3.  WCAG Compliance Auditor

When evaluating your website, WCAG Compliance Auditor by Funnelback refers to the WCAG standards and guidelines (or groups of websites). This tool primarily focuses on various accessibility-related consequences and priorities. For individuals who haven't done any work on web accessibility, this auditor is an excellent solution for a few reasons: 1) It offers suggestions on how to make the areas of your site that aren't yet accessible better, and 2) It sets a benchmark so you can track the accessibility of your website as it changes and improves.

4.  SortSite

With simply one click, SortSite by PowerMapper assesses the accessibility of your website overall or a specific web page. The tool evaluates a site's accessibility using 1,200 distinct standards and recommendations. Broken links, compatibility, SEO, privacy, web standards, and usability are a few of the major accessibility SortSite assessment areas on your website.

5.  A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator

Use the A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator from A11Y Company to ensure that the colors on your website are accessible. It highlights the problems with color contrast on your website or web pages. You have the option to test using a URL or a particular palette of colors in the tool (by using their hex codes or locations on the color wheel). There will be suggestions and ideas on how to correct any faults the tool finds in color schemes or contrasts to comply with WCAG criteria.

Examples of Web Accessibility

In this section, we’re going to look at some examples of businesses that have successfully created a website incorporating web accessibility. Use any of these websites as inspiration before you embark on your journey of making your website accessible-

1.  W3C

If one has to check for a website that would be perfectly in compliance with the guidelines of web accessibility, then W3C should be the first. What better choice than the organization that has written the standards of web accessibility?

W3C has a website that shows what a perfectly accessible website should look like and includes well-structured HTML with clearly marked tags that highlight structure, simple language, color contrast, and an indicator that focuses on the page that’s currently selected.

2.  The Cram Foundation

The Cram Foundation is an organization that works very closely with people who have disabilities so its website must comply with WCAG or web accessibility guidelines.

They pay special attention to designing the website according to all the accessibility guidelines and balance it beautifully with a branded and aesthetically pleasing design. The site follows the guidelines of WCAG that recommend using a bright color scheme and standards for contrast.

3.  US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention

Being a government website, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention is obligated to be accessible. The website has a page that details the Center's efforts to fulfill and surpass the Section 508 accessibility requirements. The page also provides contact information for visitors with questions or concerns about web accessibility.

The site offers visitors a few various navigation options so they can move through the site in a way that best matches their needs. Normal site navigation is simple and easy to comprehend for everyone.

The website offers a variety of content kinds so that users can find the information they need in a format that suits them (e.g., written, audio, video).

4.  Healthmonix

Healthmonix uses cloud-based technologies to provide medical organizations and health systems with payment options. Impressive attention to accessibility guidelines may be seen on its website. The material is organized in a clear hierarchy, the navigational arrangement is unmistakable and intuitive, and the language is accessible because of the clear color contrast.

5.  Unilever

Over 2 billion people worldwide purchase consumer goods from Unilever, which owns 400 brands. They pledged to make their website accessible for everyone as a result, and they disclose information about this investment on a special site page. The website's functional accessibility elements consist of code and support for assistive technologies (e.g., screen readers, software for text-to-speech or speech-to-speech, keyboard emulator, screen magnifier, enhanced UI, and visual styling).

In terms of color and contrast, layout and navigation, browser support, text alternatives, audio and video material, and other factors, the Unilever website complies with the WCAG or even exceeds it to some degree.

6.  The Financial Gym

A personal finance coaching service with an easily navigable website is called The Financial Gym. It uses text and image colors wisely to create a lot of contrast while maintaining the company's branding. The layout and navigation are both simple enough to use the keyboard and a screen reader. Additionally, videos on the homepage don't autoplay, giving viewers complete control over how the media is played again.

Conclusion    

Although it’s not a legal requirement for all businesses to have a website that’s accessible to people with disabilities, doing so would help your business be more inclusive and create a more positive brand image. So, we suggest you keep all the aforementioned points in mind and include web accessibility in your business plan. Remember, by just implementing a few accessibilities measures you’re doing right by your customers.

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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