What is Website Accessibility and Why is it Important for My Website?
Accessibility is important for all of us, whether it pertains to having access to basic day-to-day items like food and water, or access to tools and information, and even access to people and places.
Now, think about how different things would be today if accessing the internet wasn’t as easy as today’s seamless click-and-connect process. Regardless of where you are located, you can get online and access everything from messages to maps, recommendations to guides, shopping, food, services – everything!
However, not everyone has the same abilities, so access cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Basic right? I am tall and can access the top shelf, but my younger brother is shorter than me and cannot access it. He needs a ladder to access the top shelf. But what if he had hurt himself and was temporarily unable to climb a ladder – how will he access the top shelf then?
This is a very simplified and basic example to highlight that accessibility, as a means to get something, is different for everyone.
This is where Web Accessibility comes into play. Website accessibility focuses on how a person, regardless of physical or cognitive and temporary, permanent, or situational abilities, can access and consume digital content like any other user.
What is Website Accessibility
Website accessibility is a web design practice that offers an inclusive and equitable experience for all users regardless of their ability.
To put it into context, consider the times you had to adjust your eyes to cope with certain colors on a web page. While a small adjustment to the colors might fix the issue for you, what about those with an impairment, disability, or sensitivity to colors? They may find navigating or comprehending the information difficult, making the website inaccessible.
When we speak about a website being inaccessible for certain people, we must be mindful that we are referring to users that may have a:
- Permanent Disability: Examples are users who may have permanent physical and/or cognitive disabilities, for example, blindness or deafness.
- Temporary Disability: Users who may be restricted due to a temporary physical or cognitive disability, for example, a fractured hand
- Conditional Restriction: Refers to being restricted or impaired due to the user’s circumstance or situation, for example, old age or a noisy environment.
Why is Website Accessibility Important for Your Website?
The short answer is that you want to be equally and completely accessible to anyone who visits your website, regardless of their abilities. To elaborate, you must consider making your website more accessible because:
Reach a broader, more diverse audience:
Designing an accessible website inherently guarantees engagement with a larger user base. If your website is easily accessible, it increases your reach to include impaired or disabled users who may have unintentionally been excluded previously. An example is providing keyboard functionality to navigate content, as some users rely solely on a keyboard and can’t use a mouse.
Improved user experience:
An inclusive and accessible website design ensures all visitors have a seamless user experience. You may be wondering, how does one cater to all the possible scenarios? A good place to start and use as a reference during your design journey is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which lays down four principles for accessible website content and user interface:1. Perceivable, 2. Operable, 3. Understandable, and 4. Robust.
Let me share an example of a conditional impairment that I recently faced. On my usual busy bus ride to work in the morning, I received a video clip from a friend with a very excited, ‘You have to hear this NOW’ message. I had forgotten my headphones at home that day, and due to the situation that I was in (a crowded and noisy public transport), I couldn’t watch the clip till I got to work.
A seamless user experience would have meant I could watch the video clip leveraging subtitles rather than sound. While I was able to watch and listen to the video I was sent, consider how someone with a permanent disability would be able to access the information without an alternative.
Legal and compliance requirements:
Depending on your location, you may be legally obligated to comply with country-specific website accessibility guidelines. The Web Accessibility Initiative’s website provides strategies and resources to make the web more accessible for people with disabilities and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, an internationally accepted technical standard. These valuable resources will help build the foundations to ensure your website is compliant.
Demonstrates Corporate Social Responsibility
Incorporating WCAG principles and an inclusive design mindset advocates that you stand for equal access. In a way, it assures your users you are considerate and mindful of all their needs and want to ensure they can access and interact with your content. From a business perspective, it helps with your brand’s image and builds credibility.
SEO and Design best practices:
Website accessibility enriches your website content, navigation, and user experience, thus, making it easier for people and search engines to access your website. When more and more people can access and navigate through your website, it will automatically gain credibility with search engines as a credible and relevant source of information. As a website owner, being updated with your audience’s and search engines’ latest needs is key to gaining visibility and the right traffic.
Make Your Website an Accessible Platform – for Everyone!
Today, easy access is both the boon and the bane! We are all so used to quickly accessing whatever we need––products, services, information––at a click of a button. Website accessibility makes this possible for everyone, regardless of physical or cognitive, and temporary, permanent, or situational disabilities.