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What is Web Accessibility and Why it’s Important for Your Website

Statistics tell us that 4.57 billion people are active daily users online (as of July 2020). That equates to a staggering 59% of the global population. As a result it makes web accessibility hugely important.  

The Internet is for Everyone

Today, the internet can be used for almost anything – from shopping to research, watching TV to talking to loved ones thousands of miles away.  Technology is so advanced that doctors and surgeons use robotic technology through the internet to even perform surgery, remotely!  The Internet is of paramount importance to almost every person on the planet and it’s continuing to grow at rapid pace.  Put simply, as the web connects us to others, web accessibility should be available to all people, no matter their circumstances and especially to those that are less able than others.

Web Accessibility for All is Important

You might find it surprising that there are still millions of people worldwide who have difficulty accessing information online, particularly disabled people. What about those who are unable to use their arms, or their hands?  What happens if people are visually impaired or have hearing problems?  How do they navigate their needs online? There are also millions of people who simply find it difficult to understand concepts. It’s so easy to forget about their needs and many people building their businesses online can be forgiven for simply not thinking about web accessibility for all but it is important. Just ask anyone who cannot see or think about the times that you’ve broken an arm or fractured your hand, how easy was it to use a website? You might have been able to still type away but no doubt, progress was arduous and slow!

Web Accessibility Gives Your Business Credibility

Luckily – there are some easy ways to make your website accessible to all users and really, if you can put plans into place, you open up a world of opportunity for disabled, visually impaired and hearing impaired people.  That automatically gives your brand or service credibility.  Added to the feel-good factor that you are all-inclusive and caring – isn’t it time you checked your website accessibility?

Web Accessibility – What You Need to Know

Making your website accessible and barrier-free means your website is designed to be used by anyone, no matter their age (obviously some websites are unsuitable for children!), their abilities and their disabilities.  Without it, not only do you exclude a huge amount of people but you lose out on potential sales – why would any online business want to do that?  

With so much competition out there in the big, wide online space, it’s important to stay ahead of the game, to give your business the edge and to make people feel completely at ease with what you do and what you have to offer.  Just because a person has a physical disability, mental disability, or learning difficulty does not mean they don’t have the same needs as others.  They still shop, they still need tradesmen, they still like to research information.  The same way as shopping centres, high street shops and businesses have made their physical buildings disabled-friendly, online should be just as disabled-friendly too.  So, do your business a favour and re-visit your website accessibility.

Web Accessibility and Search Engines

Not only will good web accessibility help you increase your customer base, attract more leads and care about all your visitors, you’ll also optimise your website so it climbs higher up all of the search engine rankings, particularly Google, arguably the most important of all.  That means better visibility, more visitors and ultimately, more sales. If your competitors are doing it, so should you.  If your competitors aren’t doing it – even more reason for you to do it!

Assistive Technologies There to Help Disabilities

There are certain technologies and software that help people with disabilities interact online but these types of technologies aren’t as advanced as they should be. Especially as the internet moves at such a rapid pace, assistive technology finds it hard to keep up making communication via web difficult. However, as the importance of web accessibility is growing, the giants are taking notice and you’ll find that Apple, Amazon and Google are integrating accessible technology into their websites and services so giving those that need it, the ability to use it.

So What Is Available for Partially Sighted and Blind People?

You may have heard of some web accessibility initiatives, for example, screen readers. These are invaluable for those with visual disability.  Screen readers allow blind people to view computers and mobile devices with a special design that describes what’s on screen using speech. There’s Jaws which is available on Windows and Voiceover especially designed for Mac. There are also apps for mobile devices, thankfully making interaction and online browsing so much easier. However, they are not quite perfect yet because sometimes, AI cannot comprehend some information online, images are a prime example of where screen readers fall down.

For those who are partially sighted, there are magnifiers and these are useful tools.  They simply magnify words and images so that they are easily readable. Like regular magnifiers for books and television use, they’re good but again, they have their issues too. However, they do help.

Web Accessibility and Colour Blindness

What about those who are colour blind?  It’s estimated that approximately 4% of the population suffer with colour blindness (more men than women) so what can you do to combat this? It’s harder to control because lighting, screen glare and small screens make a difference but including detailed descriptions helps! Another useful tip is to avoid certain colour combinations, for example: green with red, green with brown, blue with purple, blue with grey, green with grey, green with blue, pale green with yellow and finally, green with black.

Web Accessibility for Auditory Disability

When it comes to web accessibility, audio impairment is a challenge, particularly as audio visual content (such as video) is growing in popularity. Over 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (Statista, May 2019).  Why should those hard of hearing lose out? Many computers, iPads, iPhones and Smart phones are compatible with hearing aids but for those with severe hearing loss, there’s another tool called intelligent transcription. Rather like visual aids, it has its own limitations too, there are often errors in transcription but for the audio impaired it does make using the internet easier and importantly, possible.

Aids for Motor Disability

As well as hearing solutions and visual solutions, what about aids for those with motor disabilities? There are keyboards especially designed to help with motor issues. They are controllable through using one hand or monitoring eye movement through cameras. Some of them also recognise head movements to help with easier browsing online but because these keyboards only use hand movement, head movement and eye movement they again, like the other aids, have situational limitations. To help, websites could break up their content rather than having all their information on one page so those with motor disabilities find what they need with ease.

Dyslexia and Web Accessibility

So, does web accessibility concern only people with disabilities? As an example, not really a disability but sometimes a challenge, dyslexia doesn’t limit online use unless it is extremely severe. With predictive text, websites are more accessible plus voice command technology is a great help. Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri might not be designed for dyslexia or for disabilities but they definitely make a difference! For those with very strong dyslexia there are additional aids such as coloured overlays, reading rulers and excellent software designed especially for web accessibility for dyslexia called Claro. With 1 in 10 people suffering with dyslexia, web accessibility must be considered.  

As well as helping everyone, for those with learning difficulties, voice commands are really important too. There’s no need to write messages, make appointments or even place orders online with voice command devices. Yes, as with most of the web accessibility tools mentioned, they too have their restrictions but they are improving and as more people, disabled and able, use voice command technology, the devices will become even more intuitive and intelligent.

So What Can Websites do to Become Barrier-Free?

There’s a lot that can be done to make your website accessible plus the better usability your website has, the higher up the ranks your website will climb!  It’s important for good SEO, for more leads and ultimately, to grow your business.  So make it accessible with these ideas and regularly perform accessibility audits to ensure your website still performs well for disabled people:

  • Label your graphics with easy to comprehend titles
  • Provide an introduction to your web pages and summaries of content
  • Use headings (this breaks up your content, makes sections easier to read especially for visually impaired people)
  • Use verbal content too, you don’t just have to use text
  • Use videos with subtitles so those that can’t hear can still read and view at the same time
  • Review your website and make sure it is as simple as possible.  Get rid of content that is overly wordy, keep it to the point and check your images, videos and audio content
  • If you’re an ecommerce website, describe colours as vividly as possible

Finally…

The most important thing you can do as a website owner is to think as a disabled person would.  Better still, you could also conduct some of your own market research and speak to those with disabilities, whether cognitive disability or physical and ask them to check the usability.  For further information on web accessibility, visit https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/, developed through the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium and make sure you’re following recommended international web standards’ guidelines and doing enough to give all your customers the best possible online experience.

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