I want to begin by stating a very well known fact: the right to access information is recognized by the United Nations (U.N.). Now, what most people think of when they say or hear that is that we are free to access it, that nobody has the right to prevent us from doing so. That is just about right. But what few people think that it’s not always governments that do not let people access information. There are cases in which people unknowingly prevent others to access information by not making it available for them in a form they can receive it. If you don’t get where I am going please bear with me for a while, you’ll soon understand.
About web accessibility
‘Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality.’
This is the definition Wikipedia offers regarding web accessibility and I find it to be complete and easy to comprehend.
The way that the web is meant to be is it should be functional for everybody. And when I say everybody I mean all of us, no matter the hardware, software, language, culture, location, or physical or mental ability we posses. So when it works the way it should, all people should be able to enjoy the things that the web has to offer.
The greatest thing about the web is that it has removed all barriers, cultural, linguistic, physical etc. It helps people connect and evolve beyond all boundaries. So when because of flaws in design or programming somebody is excluded from the web, the entire purpose of this entity is defeated.
Who is to say that any of us has the right to do such a thing, to keep information from other people? Wouldn’t that mean that we are as awful as regimes over the time that practiced totalitarianism? It most definitely would.
What an accessible site looks like?
There are a lot of things that make a site accessible. The main idea is to offer solutions everybody.
More specifically an accessible website is one that people with disabilities can understand, navigate, and interact with. They can enjoy it and that they can also contribute to the website.
Web accessibility covers all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, and physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
Why should you have an accessible Website?
I will give you three strong reasons:
- Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is a basic human right, according to the U.N.
- Accessibility supports social inclusion.
- There is strong business opportunity in making a Website accessible.
How to have an accessible website
Now, that I have made my case for accessibility let’s see what we can do to make your website more accessible.
There is a wide range of visual impairments including blindness, various common types of low vision and poor eyesight, and various types of color blindness. People suffering from these impairments can be assisted in their efforts to access a website. For example, you can code you website with semantically meaningful HTML, adding textual equivalents for images and providing links named meaningfully. If you do so, it will help blind users use text-to-speech software and/or text-to-Braille hardware. Another thing you can do is make sure that the text and images are large or they can be enlarged. This way user with poor sight will be able to read and understand the content you offer. Links can be underlined, or you can find another way to differentiate then and you should not resume to coloring them. This way color blind users will be able to notice them and access them.
Some people cannot use a mouse. This happens because many people have a difficulty or inability to use their hands, including tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, etc., due to conditions. This is also a problem for many older users with limited fine motor control. An accessible website does not rely on the mouse; it provides all functionality via a keyboard. Then people with disabilities can use assisted technologies that mimic the keyboard, such as speech input.
You can make sure that clickable links and areas are large; this helps users who cannot control a mouse with precision use and benefit from your site.
It’s obvious that audio files aren’t available to people who can’t hear. However you can make sure that people can still benefit from these files by providing a text transcript. This will make the audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive for website developers to provide transcripts for podcasts and audio files.
Another solution is to provide videos that are closed captioned or have a sign language version available.
Accessibility for users with a predisposition to seizures
Visual strobe or flashing effects can cause seizures. If you want to accommodate visitors of your website that may have seizures, you can make sure that flashing effects are avoided or made optional. This way a user prone to seizures caused by these effects will not be put at risk.
Accessibility for users that are cognitively or intellectually challenged
Nobody is saying you should build your entire site so that people challenged in this manner can use and understand it. But a part of your content could be written in plain language and illustrated with instructional diagrams and animations. If you do that, then users with dyslexia and learning difficulties will be better able to understand the content.
These are only a few guidelines. There is a lot of work involved in making a website accessible but I believe it is a thing worth doing. If you don’t believe in the humanitarian aspect of this idea, you at least have to consider the business end of the issue. People that need these accessibility features are a good market for advertisers and people offering services. It’s a pity to lose potential clients and users because you failed to implement the minimal accessibility facilities.
It’s not only about denying people impaired in one way or another access to your website, it is also about denying yourself users and traffic increase and potential revenue. I think it is at least worth taking into consideration.
List Of Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools