For a lot of companies, the accessibility of their website is a factor that features much further down the list than a lot of other required or desirable factors.
On the surface, configuring your site so it can be used by those with additional needs might seem like a lot of work for little reward – but when you realise that 8.5 million people in the UK are registered as having a disability, not ensuring access for all can have a big business impact.
To understand why accessibility is vital, it’s important to understand what it means for a website…
What does accessibility mean?
For lots of people, the term accessibility conjures images of ramps, lifts and dropped curbs that allow easy wheelchair access to a building – and while correct, both the architectural application and the image of a wheelchair user put too narrow a meaning on the term.
Accessibility extends to any ‘occupation’ – that’s to say any task or action that a person may want or need to undertake – and the term ‘disabled’ or someone with ‘disabilities’ extends well beyond physical limitations – and into issues relating to differing cognition, mental function and sensory needs.
So, in website terms, it’s useful to think of ‘accessibility’ as simply making the site accessible and useable for anyone – regardless of any impairment, reduced ability or external conditions.
A broad spectrum
A broader look at the population’s range of abilities sees a wide variety of conditions that should be accounted for in web design:
- Visual issues – including people who are blind, have reduced vision, colour blindness or sensory sensitivity to colours and light levels.
- Auditory issues – people who are deaf, have a reduced range hearing – or have sensory issues that relate to particular noises and pitch levels.
- Physical issues – including musculoskeletal issues leading to reduced movement, any inability to use limbs that ruling out standard device control methods and any cognitive issues leading to difficulties in movement.
- Learning disabilities – leading to issues with movement, understanding of content and ability to interact with devices.
- Autistic spectrum conditions – resulting in sensitivities to site design, colours and noises.
While we tend to think about accessibility as being human conditions that limit access to sites, there are also environmental conditions that can limit a person’s ability to access and use a website:
- Old technology that doesn’t cater for the latest design features
- Speech driven search and browsing owing to user’s situation
- Limited network speed
- Working in areas of high noise or light interference
Benefits of accessibility
Before considering any business benefits, there’s a significant moral and ethical argument for ensuring accessibility for people of all abilities and in all conditions.
A great deal of companies put their ethical responsibilities before any business considerations – and this should always be taken into consideration when something as significant as a company’s web presence is in question.
Limiting access can damage your reputation
Social media makes it extremely easy for your bad decisions around accessibility of a site to become a much more widely publicised problem than you would intend. Your decision to limit accessibility is not shared by social media platforms – meaning you can make it hard for people to use your service – but you can’t stop people telling the world about your ethical shortcuts!
While there haven’t been any significant cases against which precedent can be set, limiting people’s use of your website based on your ineffective design could find you in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
Effectively, neglecting to provide a service to a disabled person that is otherwise accessible to others is unlawful discrimination. This principle applies regardless of the type of organisation you are or the service that you offer.
Even if ethics take a backseat to cold business decisions, the numbers that drive accessibility should speak for themselves. 8.5 million people in the UK are registered as being disabled – with an additional unknown number handling access issues without medical support.
8.5 million people represents more than 10% of the population of the UK. If your company decides that accessibility isn’t a priority, they’re effectively turning away 1 in every 10 customers who try to access the business online – the web version of door security turning away every tenth customer who tries to enter a shop! A stark image, but effectively the same.
What does accessibility look like?
There are hundreds of possible adaptations that allow equal access to your website – although they tend to break down into categories:
- For people with limited vision: Adaptations should be made/available for colours, contrasts, text size and font type, i.e. text should scale up without losing quality or readability.
- For people with no vision: Consideration should be given to how the page is presented and how a screen-reader would interpret the different elements. This should include image alt tags, title tags for links and audio descriptions for any video or animation content.
- For people with limited hearing: If you have audio content on the page can it be represented graphically? I.e. closed captions or subtitles – or signing alongside video.
- For people who have physical restrictions: Does your site offer feasible control options via the keyboard? Do you allow forms and fields to be autocompleted?
- For those with learning difficulties or disabilities: Is you content easy to comprehend? Is it broken down so it can be read by people who might struggle with large blocks of text? Is your site compatible with software that will read text aloud?
Meet customer’s needs
It’s a fundamental for business owners everywhere; build a product or service that answers a market need. To think that a huge number of those same business owners then have websites developed that preclude their business, product or service from many of the customers they are trying to find is unfathomable.
Accessibility means you’re:
- Abiding by the law – and getting a significant head start on any further legal changes should they occur
- Accessing extensions to virtually every demographic – with a collective spending power of £100billion+
- Creating a site that is more useable and friendly to all – not just those from whom accessibility is a must.
These are the kind of goals that marketing teams work for hundreds of hours to achieve. Save yourself your hassle by putting website accessibility at the top of your to-do list.