Looking at the design of a website that is aesthetically appealing has nothing to do with the actual usefulness and user satisfaction. So called stunning look and feel is no longer helping websites to win the heart and minds of users and it is a proven fact. Over the years the design has evolved from being committed to look factors to being more intent on usability. Designers are aware of this shift of mindset from so called appealing attributes to accessible and useful aspects. But still, there is a whole lot of websites in which accessibility is a problem. It may be a static inertia that makes designers hold on to their old ideas concerning visual appeal, but it is high time they need to change it.
The first and foremost aspect of better accessibility is the priority of content over design. A website can be stunning, but it can add to the confusion confusion of the user and make them leave for other more useful websites. This is precisely the thing happening with many websites with eye-catching visual appeal and design.
The problem with accessibility is even getting more challenging thanks to a wide horizon of mobile devices with evolving capacity and a variety of web browsers. You cannot just stay focused on a particular design output until being assured of how it performs across mobile devices and browsers. When addressing the compatibility factor across different browsers the designer cannot relax on total user compatibility. Reaching a balance by addressing both the factors is the key to great design.
Accessibility and usefulness of design is not just an accompanying element but it should be addressed as one of the core elements of your web design project. Lack of accessibility in your design elements can make your website inferior in a number of ways. Let me explain a few of them here.
1. You cannot afford to lose physically challenged users
According to a recent statistics published by US government body Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a whopping 75.4 million adults suffer from one kind of disability or limitation in performing complex activities. This figure amounts nearly 20% of users in the market. Can your website afford to lose this slice of potential users? Majority of physically challenged users because of inability or reluctance in making body movement are likely to remain more dependent on web services and apps. Naturally, a great portion of this challenged population can easily be regarded as high volume or most frequent users. Obviously, websites offering them greater ease and accessibility will enjoy their loyalty.
- Older users over time can lose physical ability and only by being accessible you can retain them.
- The increasing population of older people demands that websites make themselves more accessible for them.
- Physically challenged people are less prone to switch their loyalty if you serve their needs well. This gives you higher scope in enjoying user loyalty than with other users.
2. Ethics, moral strength, user trust and loyalty is on your side
A fair principle in business translates into moral strength and your business will be deprived of this if your websites are not equally accessible by all irrespective of their inability, physical challenge and capacity. A responsive website design that takes care of every different accessibility problem from the user’s point of view can be proud of its ethical practice. This helps your business stand apart from your competitors. By offering equal access to all users through an easy to user interface and design that responsively address user problems and incapability, you are positioned for winning trust and loyalty for years.
- Disability makes these users more prone to shop online or access information online.
- While internet as a whole has an egalitarian approach to make itself accessible, your website just cannot restrain some users from accessing it.
- Service without any barriers and constraints, that being the norm you always risk to remain on the wrong side without making website enough accessible.
3. Think accessibility beyond the features for blind people
Internet is grossly a visual space and consequently most designers consider accessibility features important for blind people. Most talks on enhancing accessibility go on with reference to people experiencing visual impairment. But there are other types of accessibility problems as well and they need to be addressed with equal stress. Just offering alternatives to images does not make the website always accessible.
- Some users may suffer from cognitive problems pertaining to dementia or logical conformity. Offering them simple flow of pages with a ‘one-at-a-time’ approach and directive imagery can be helpful.
- For users suffering from hearing problems videos and image files must be displayed with detailed subtitle and text.
- For people with physical challenges like inactive limbs, voice command features should be in place.
- Games and children specific websites and web apps must be optimized with easy navigation and flow that make use more enjoyable.
- Consider diverse physical and cognitive challenges that can make user suffer rather than concentrating on a typical impairment.
4. Responsiveness is the heart of accessible design
Responsive design is the heart of accessible web design. Adding a few features for helping the visually impaired or people with hearing problems is not the solution. Actually in spite of having these features a website cannot be truly termed as accessible for all and sundry. Whether your site opens equally across all devices and browsers with intact feature set that is the parameter to judge the accessibility of your website. Truly speaking, it does not need extra effort but only following the convention of responsive design and offering ease in interface and navigation enhances it.
- Responsive design that let the site open across all devices enhances accessibility for all.
- Responsive design assures that the site remains easy to access across all browsers.
- Easy and simple design that quickly makes users oriented and serves their purpose is important.
5. Mind the legal obligation in certain niches and categories
In certain niches and categories of websites there are some legal obligations that one needs to conform. Let us have a look at some of these categories and laws concerning their accessibility.
- Websites designed for US Government or State Government agencies that are eligible for Assisted Technology Funding must have accessibility features.
- Websites designed for the use of any agency or organization receiving federal fund must include accessible features.
- Educational websites built for schools and institutions must have accessibility features.
- Anti discrimination claws under Americans with Disability Act may apply to retail and commercial websites for absence of accessibility features.
While implementing accessible elements in your website is simple and does not require any complex design efforts, you attain perfection and benefit in more ways than one through this approach. Wider reach and corresponding business output from your web presence, better engagement, public relations and social impression for the web identity of your brand, higher ‘feel good’ factor with moral strength on your side and obviously having yourself on the right side as far as the litigation and legal norms are concerned – all of these benefits make accessibility so important as an aspect for web design.