Building accessible sites is a Good Thing To Do™. It opens up the web to more people and helps businesses reach a wider audience. But making the shift to creating accessible websites is a whole team (and client!) effort. From design to development, testing to sales, here’s how we can all work together to improve accessibility.
This year, I’m leading the charge to up our accessibility game at CookiesHQ. This post focuses on the first step of our journey – discovering why it’s so important and identifying which members of our team need to get involved.
For most people, browsing the web is a matter of looking at their screen and moving their mouse around, or their fingers on a touchscreen. That may be what you’re doing right now.
Navigating this way feels pretty natural to a lot of us. However, standard use for these devices assumes you:
- have enough visual acuity to read the screen’s content, and/or
- have enough motor control to accurately point to elements you want to interact with
This makes many common devices inadequate for people with certain disabilities. Meaning that a myriad of programmes and tools have popped up to help people with disabilities access the web.
These include those that help you:
- consume content – screen readers, braille bars, screen magnifiers etc
- interact with content – speech recognition software, switch controls, head wands etc
As well as those who require additional technology to access the web, there are also people that need content to be adapted. For example, people with epilepsy may require there to be no flashing lights or images, while people with learning difficulties may require information to be broken up and presented in clear, straightforward language.
There is no ‘right way’ to use the web and it’s worth considering the various different ways people can interact with online content. Accessibility is about ensuring everyone can achieve what they need to, regardless of how they interact with and consume the content on the way.
Why should we care about accessibility?
11 million people in the UK have a limiting long-term impairment, illness or disability (that’s 1 in 6). If you assume that everyone coming to your website is non-disabled and don’t make an effort to make your offering accessible, you could alienate a good portion of your potential users.
Add to that figure people with temporary impairments (a broken arm, cataracts) or situational impairments (noisy open office preventing you from hearing, shaking train) and we’re talking a lot more people than most realise.
Beyond the clear ethical argument for providing access for everyone, making your website accessible also makes good commercial sense.
If somebody can’t access your website they can’t buy what you’re selling. On the flip side, if you’re the only company providing an accessible site in your industry, customers with disabilities will come to you.
Improving accessibility also improves the experience for all users. Larger buttons are easier for people with motor impairments to click, but also make the site easier to navigate for everyone else. Using semantic markup (HTML markup that reinforces the meaning of information on web pages and web apps) improves accessibility but also helps search engines pick up your site contents.
Finally, there’sa legal risk to ignoring accessibility. The Equality Act 2010 considers websites as part of ‘services to public’ for which you can’t discriminate access. But your solicitor can give better advice about that than us!
How do we make a website more accessible?
With everyone in the team able to use a mouse and screen to browse the web, we weren’t familiar with all the other devices available. We realised that even if we did learn to use them, we probably wouldn’t use them the same way people with disabilities would.
Fortunately, the W3C (the same people that write the HTML and CSS standards, the main languages of the web) also provide guidelines for creating accessible content. It’s always best to test your work with actual users, but the 78 rules provided in the guidelines help eliminate some of the guesswork.
Whose responsibility is accessibility?
It’s easy to think accessibility is mostly a matter for front-end developers – in the end, they’re the ones writing what the browser consumes. But building accessible websites actually affects all parties involved in creating a website. Here’s how:
While browsers and operating systems handle the communication with devices (keyboards, braille bars, screen readers, switches etc), we still need to write markup that correctly describes onscreen content.
Quality assurance testers
Whatever gets built needs to be tested. Your QA needs to make sure the code produced by front-end developers is actually accessible and works as intended.
Designers and UX specialists
Designers provide the blueprints for front-end developers to build. Contrast, sizing, spacing and layout can all be tailored to minimize cognitive load, and all have a big impact on accessibility.
If we want accessibility to be a requirement of the project, project managers need to be aware of how this affects workload and ensure accessibility goals are met.
For us, accessibility is part of the basic requirements for a quality website. To some clients, it may feel like an unnecessary luxury. It’s up to us to convince them that it’s not only necessary, but desirable.
Launching an accessible website is only the first step in the process. The client needs to make sure that changes they make to the website won’t break an accessible experience, and that steps in the user journey that come before or after using the website are also accessible.
This post is the first in a series exploring ways to make websites and apps accessible. In a future post, we’ll be looking in more depth at what part each team member can play in making accessibility a business priority.
Ready for more accessibility tips? Try:
- The 4 most important factors in accessible web design
- How to implement an accessible front-end on your website
Need advice now? Contact us today to get help making your website accessible for all.