What is Website Accessibility?
Just like a retail store might have a wheelchair ramp and automatic doors for mobility-challenged shoppers, websites should also cater to visitors with disabilities. An accessible website has built-in accommodations for people who would otherwise have a difficult time exploring your site. This article offers insights and solutions for businesses that seek digital inclusivity for all potential web customers.
Why Bother with Web Accessibility?
Well first off, it’s the right thing to do. It’s interesting how some brands promote diversity, equality, and inclusion in their hiring practices, but miss the broader picture of inclusivity on their website. With minimal effort, you can accommodate visitors who are otherwise underserved in the digital world. From an economic standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to exclude an entire group of potential customers. From a legal standpoint, accessibility is becoming law in many areas and lawsuits are becoming more frequent. And from a technical perspective, it has never been easier to adjust your website to accommodate people with disabilities. So why wait?
What are the Accessibility Laws?
Creating accessible online experiences is fast becoming a regulatory requirement. Here are the top frameworks and legislations pertaining to web compliancy.
In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) established the first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The most recent iteration, WCAG 2.1, was released in 2018 to guide web developers on how to make sites accessible. Governments around the world have incorporated these guidelines into legislation.
The Americans with Disability Act is a non-discrimination law that demands organizations provide everyone with equal access to goods, services, communication, and information. ADA Title III pertains to “public accommodation”, meaning places where people shop or visit, including websites.
In 2021, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) required Ontario websites to comply with WCAG guidelines. For the time being, this requirement applies to large private sector organizations, with 50+ employees, and all public sector organizations.
What Types of Disabilities Interfere with Online Activities?
It may seem daunting to contend with every possible barrier that people might have. But here are the most common disabilities that prevent people from being able to fully access your website. Fortunately, your site can be remediated around these barriers.
Vision impairment is the most obvious hindrance to being able to fully absorb a website’s information. For some, this barrier can be overcome with larger font sizes and proper contrast ratios. For fully blind website visitors, auditory screen readers may be the only way they can navigate a website.
This may seem less obvious, but there are people with motor impairments who require assistive technologies to browse the internet. For example, individuals with motor-control issues may need adaptive keyboards to navigate the web. While severely motor-impaired individuals may only be able to use a controller with a mouth stick or head wand.
Many people interpret the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a set of standards primarily serving the needs of people with visual impairment. But another consideration is for people with cognitive impairment or neurodivergence. This diverse group might include disorders such as epilepsy, autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
What Basic Principles can be Incorporated into Website Design?
Designing your website with accessibility fundamentals in mind is a step in the right direction. It won’t go all the way to WCAG 2.1 compliance, but it might just help some of your visitors.
Does your website have light text on a light background? Or dark text on a dark background? We often see these infractions in the headers, with text overlaid on top of a photo. This can prove to be difficult to read – even for people without visual impairment! Be aware of contrast issues and accommodate for them. The large-scale text should have a contrast ratio of 3:1, while normal text should achieve a contrast ratio of 4.5:1.
For blind people browsing the internet with screen readers, you need to insert descriptions for every image or icon on your website. This is called an “alt attribute” or “alt tag”. That way, blind people can understand the images you have chosen for your website. As a bonus, filling in all your alt tags will give you a little bump in rankings since Google indexes this metadata. Look at this as an opportunity to strategically insert keywords into your images.
A clear and predictable navigation system not only benefits disabled individuals but is immensely helpful to all your web visitors and should be adopted into your entire user interface. For example, the navigation menu should be located in the exact same place on all web pages, and in the same relative order each time. For more on navigation, here are WCAG navigation guidelines.
Is My Website WCAG Compliant?
If your website was launched in the last few years, you may be wondering why your web company didn’t make your website compliant in the first place. The truth is that most web companies are probably already implementing fundamentals like proper contrast ratios, legible fonts, image tags, and clear navigation. But accessibility isn’t a one-time deal. What if accessibility guidelines change? Or what if a new page is added to the website?
If you are unsure about your website compliance, there are several free online tools that will confirm whether your site passes accessibility standards:
What Are My Options for Ensuring Web Accessibility?
So, did you pass or fail with the online checker (above)? Assuming your site needs work, then what are your options? Well, “do nothing” is always an option but that needlessly excludes people with disabilities from fully consuming your site. It also leaves the door open to lawsuits. Another option is a “free plugin” solution, but be warned, you get what you pay for. These plugins typically only cover 25%-50% of compliance guidelines.
NetGain has researched and partnered with an AI & Accessibility platform to bring our clients a comprehensive yet affordable tool that provides a compliant solution. At less than $65/month, our solution is decidedly better than dealing with the legal mess of a lawsuit.
The first step is providing initial remediation. Our clients even receive an accessibility statement confirming the website’s compliance status. From there, our software scans your website every 24 hours and corrects any deficiencies found on new pages or blog posts. As an example, our software uses artificial intelligence to add alt attributes to any photos that are missing an alt tag. The software interprets the image and adds a suitable tag, with uncanny accuracy.
Another neat aspect of NetGain’s compliancy solution is the AI-powered widget. See it for yourself. Click on the blue “stick-person” icon at the bottom right of this page. It brings up a control panel that allows users to select a predefined disability profile, for example, “Vision Impaired Profile”. Alternatively, users can manually adjust for their preference for content, such as fonts and spacing. Or make color adjustments such as contrast, saturation, or monochrome. And there are also page orientation modifications such as hiding images or adding a reading mask.
It’s worth noting what the software will not do. The interface won’t change a thing for the majority of users. It’s only activated when clicked, via the interface, even then, it acts as an overlay to your website and only for the duration of the user’s specific session. This means that the software doesn’t alter your website’s code or design. Any existing metadata including alt attributes or page titles will never be overwritten. Furthermore, no user data is collected, so as not to interfere with GDPR compliance.
With such a robust and affordable accessibility solution, there’s never been a better time to ensure your website is compliant. Contact NetGain to explore your next steps.