Website accessibility affects almost 60 million people in the USA, and over 1 billion people worldwide.
And as our population ages, those numbers are growing. The numbers are likely far greater, due to people who don’t view themselves as disabled.
But, due to aging, people who don’t see themselves as “disabled” may now find it hard to read the text on a computer screen without significantly enlarging it.
… or may find it difficult to navigate with a mouse due to arthritis.
… or may have difficulty navigating websites that aren’t simple due to a decrease in their cognitive abilities.
So, website accessibility is not something you want to put on the back-burner.
Why Website Accessibility is a Must
To illustrate why website accessibility isn’t a back-burner issue, consider mobile-friendly sites.
How Google Forced the Mobile-Friendly Website Trend
If you’re a business owner who has had a website for more than 5 years, you’ll probably recall just a few years ago when mobile website design became a hot topic.
There were those that doubted the hype, but the truth is that if you didn’t make your website mobile-friendly, you could kiss your Google rankings and your website traffic goodbye.
Business owners had to take steps to make their sites mobile-friendly or lose out. That’s because mobile use was rapidly growing and was expected to surpass desktop use.
Well, guess what?
Today, building a site that’s not mobile-friendly is simply not an option. It’s a given.
The same can now be said for website accessibility…
A website that is not accessible is simply not an option.
If you’ve read our ebook (2019 Website Accessibility Trends: The Rise of Lawsuits and How to Protect Your Business Today), you now know about the legal risks.
Yes, people with disabilities and those that advocate for them are effecting change by hitting businesses large and small where it often hurts the most: their pockets and their reputation.
So now you understand that:
- Millions of people are affected by website accessibility
- Ignoring website accessibility is not a good strategy
And, hopefully that’s allowed you to see that:
Understanding the truth about how people with disabilities use the web is important.
Misconceptions about how people with disabilities use the web
So, let’s dig in and decimate… absolutely obliterate… two common misconceptions concerning website accessibility:
- Misconception #1: People with disabilities don’t use the web.
- Misconception #2: Websites don’t have to change, because people with disabilities have their own technology to use the web.
Wrong and wrong! These couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth about how people with disabilities use the web
The truth is:
- People with disabilities DO use the web.
They use the web to share in many of the same experiences as those without disabilities: to pay their bills, to access information that matters to them, to be educated, to be entertained, and much more.
(But for the most part, their overall web experience pretty much sucks, and that’s the problem!)
That leads into busting up misconception #2…
- Websites DO need to change.
Yes, people with disabilities often use “assistive technology”, that is, devices or software that help them use the web.
But, a website must be compatible with those assistive devices, in other words, a website must be accessible. Otherwise, that website is of little to no use to the assistive technology user.
Like a car without wheels…
Or a train without tracks…
Or a boat without oars…
You get the idea… You may have the technology to get from A to B, but you’re going nowhere!
So now, let’s check out a day in the life of just three people with different disabilities.
A Day in the Life: Three examples of how website accessibility affects users with disabilities
These stories, featured on W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website (a great resource, by the way, for website accessibility information), aren’t about real people, but they demonstrate the real lives of people living with various disabilities.
We’ve “dumbed” them down a bit so they’re less techie and easier to understand (we’re not saying you’re dumb, just… well, you know what we mean).
Ilya, a senior staff member who is blind
Ilya is blind. She’s the chief accountant at an insurance company. Go Ilya!
Like many others who are blind, Ilya uses a screen reader and her mobile phone to use the web.
When a website is accessible, Ilya’s screen reader helps her to quickly and easily navigate the page, by reading the webpage out loud.
- Browse the navigation menu
- Visit any page on the website
- Skip to the main content on a page without having to re-read content that appears at the top of every page
- Read descriptions of images
- Make sense of all written content
- Fill out and submit forms
- Make an appointment
- And so much more
So although Ilya is blind, her screen reader, when coupled with accessible web design, lets her “see” the website in her mind’s eye.
On the other hand, when a website is not accessible, Ilya can run into frustrating issues like:
- Difficulty browsing the navigation menu
- Difficulty understanding the meaning of some content
- Not knowing the meaning of images
- Not knowing where a link will take her
- Difficulty filling out a web form
- Not knowing which fields are required or if she’s made an error on a web form
- Inability to jump to the main content on a page, causing her to waste time listening to irrelevant content at the top of the page
She can even get stuck or trapped in areas of the site and be forced to abandon the site altogether.
All of these barriers make for an unpleasant and sometimes, downright useless, website experience.
Alex, reporter with repetitive stress injury
Alex is a reporter that’s developed a repetitive strain injury, so he finds it painful to use a mouse and to type for long periods of time.
But he’s learned to adapt and work with less pain by learning to use keyboard commands without a mouse.
He also uses voice recognition software on his computer and mobile phone and assistive touch on his mobile phone.
Websites that function well with a keyboard only (no mouse) work great for Alex. But he encounters problems when websites can’t be navigated by keyboard commands alone, for example:
- He may not be able to fully fill out a web form that does not have keyboard equivalents.
- He may have difficulty skipping content and navigating to sections on a webpage without using loads of keyboard commands, which is very tiring and limits the time he can spend working comfortably.
Martine, online student who is hard of hearing
62-year old Martine has been hard of hearing since birth. She knows sign language and can read, but doesn’t understand speech.
Because of the disability accommodations that many colleges now offer, Martine is currently a student again, taking online college courses.
For her online courses, video and other media content are of no use to her, if they don’t contain captions. When media is captioned, audio is converted to text, so Martine can read it.
Transcripts (written versions of the entire audio or video content) are helpful to Martine too. She can print the transcripts and use them to study or view them on the go from her mobile phone.
Ironically, the university has found that these measures have also benefited students without disabilities, and improved their search engine rankings.
So now you know the real deal.
Now you know why websites have to be built and maintained so that they actually work for people with disabilities.
Are your wheels turning?
Perhaps you’re wondering:
- How do I know if my website is accessible right now?
- Am I inadvertently excluding people with disabilities?
- If my developer says she can make my website accessible, how do I really know?
We can help you answer those questions. Just contact us to learn more.
In the next issue, we want to cover how accessibility can boost your business’ bottom line.
Did you notice how the university benefited from accommodating Martine?
Website accessibility accommodations were also useful to users without disabilities, and boosted search engine rankings and website traffic.
And that’s just one example of how inclusive design can help a business to make more money.
But, until next time, check out the Google Impact Challenge video on how technology can transform the lives of people with disabilities.