Web Accessibility: Are You Ignoring 49 Million Users?

01 Mar 2016

An estimated 48.9 million Americans have a disability. Is your website designed to serve them?

At this year’s Grammy Awards, music legend Stevie Wonder boldly declared, "We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”

With those words, the beloved musical icon––who has been blind since shortly after birth––brought the concept of accessibility to a whole new audience.

What is accessibility?

Broadly defined, accessibility refers to designing products, devices, services, and environments so that someone with disabilities is able to use them with reasonable accommodation.

Web accessibility specifically refers to websites and can involve site navigation, colors and contrast, and ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers. (And related to Web accessibility, but not strictly in the field, is the issue of person-first language in your website's content.) 

Legal Requirements

Government entities and nonprofit organizations have been familiar with accessibility for decades, ever since, in 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Many states have similar statutes in place. 

But, of course, Web accessibility is not just a subject for the public sector.

For-profit companies, while not legally bound to build accessible websites, certainly should. It's in any organization's best interest to cast a wide digital net. Maintaining a non-accessible website means you're turning away millions of potential users. 

Web Accessibility Isn't Difficult

As the web has matured, so have the tools and methods to make sites accessible––and evaluate their accessibility.

Best practices and standards are established in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is the result of a collaboration of individuals and organizations from around the globe.

At TradeMark, we use these tools and technologies when building a new website. Warning, techy lingo ahead! 

  • Skipto.js – Also known as “skipnav,” this gives site visitors the option to skip directly to content rather than get stuck in what can seem like never-ending navigation links.
  • Alternative Text – When possible, Content Management Systems like Drupal and ExpressionEngine can be confitured to required Alternative text or “alt tags” when an image is added to the site. These attributes are brief descriptions added to an image that allow screen readers to describe the image to the site visitor.
  • Nested Headings – If you have ever looked at HTML code, you have more than likely seen tags like h1, h2, etc. Using these elements correctly assists with content structure and hierarchy to create a table of contents.
  • ARIA labels – Accessible Rich Internet Applictions specifications are extra information added to the HTML to help assistive technologies better interpret the code. An example would be to add “role=’button’” to specify the specific role of that HTML element as a button.
  • Foundation – Our front-end framework of choice is ZURB Foundation, which has accessibility features built into the code, like skipnavs, keyboard navigation, and nested headings.
  • JAWS (and other screen readers) – Using these tools allows us to experience a site using assistive technology for the visually impaired.
  • WAVE Web Accessibility Tool – We use this online tool to evaluate sites for missing alt tags, improper nested headings, keyboard navigation, etc.

Good Design is Accessible Design

At TradeMark, every website we design is fully accessible.

Years ago, when I was first learning about Web development and accessibility, one of the phrases that stuck with me was “Good design is accessible design.” It stands to reason that the more people you can serve, the more successful your endeavor will be.

As the Web continues to evolve, reaching greater numbers of people on new platforms, accessibility will continue to be a hot topic––and a necessary tool in Web development.

More Reading

Microsoft's Radical Bet on a New Type of Design ThinkingCo.Design