Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, put it best when he said that the power of the web is in its universality and ability to be accessed by everyone regardless of their disability.
Since its invention, the web has been a place that strives to remove barriers that prohibit people with disabilities from communicating and interacting with technology. Unlike the physical world, where such individuals are limited, the web promised an environment where such limitations are non-existent.
However, the premise of universality and accessibility has remained a dream due to websites, applications, technologies and tools having bad designs that create barriers that exclude people from using the web.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility refers to websites, tools and technologies that are designed and developed to accommodate people with disabilities. It encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including visual, physical, auditory, cognitive, speech and neurological.
Web accessibility is not just beneficial to disabled people, it can also improve users’ experience for people without disabilities. It is web accessibility that makes it easy for us to be able to browse efficiently on small mobile devices, during slow internet connections and during old age, where our abilities to input instructions in our devices are limited.
Making your website more accessible
While building a website, you should prioritize web accessibility by being considerate of people with disabilities who will be using your website. Here are some things you can do to improve a site’s web accessibility.
Use Alt text for images
Most people with vision impairment use screen readers for website navigation. If your website has images, then it is imperative to use alt text for your images. These alt texts should be very descriptive of the images so that users who are visually impaired will be able to understand the whole context of the image.
Using heading tags
Screen readers also use heading tags to navigate through your site and understand the parts that need emphasizing. Placing heading tags such as <h1> and <h2> on your site will ensure that your site is easily navigable and visually impaired visitors are not having a hard time on your site.
Making forms accessible
Special needs visitors have a hard time filling out complex forms. Therefore, while designing your website, you should make sure that you have them in mind. Methods such as grouping each type of information, labeling fields and keeping required fields to a minimum can be very helpful to these visitors.
Make sure you use web-accessible platforms
If you decide to go with a content management system, always ensure that your platform supports web accessibility. A good example is the WordPress CMS, where you can install a plugin from Accessibe and be able to optimize your site to become compliant with web accessibility regulations.
Types of web accessibility compliance regulations
The surge in internet usage around the world created a need for legislation that would protect disabled people looking to use the technology. This is after a realization that most websites, technology and tools were not tailored to accommodate people with disabilities.
Although these web technologies had a significant number of people with disabilities as their site visitors, they never paid any attention nor accommodated them. To solve this problem, web accessibility legislation was incorporated into existing civil rights legislation to protect them and compel the websites to create technologies that are accessible to people with disabilities.
Websites that do not follow the web accessibility compliance legislation can be legally liable. This means that people with disabilities can sue websites that do not comply with the legislation if they find it hard to navigate your site. Here are some of the major legislation that you should be aware of while developing your website.
WCAG 2.1: These are some of the most important guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) require websites to have easily perceivable content through senses of sight, sound, and touch. Websites should also comply with being easy to operate, be easy to understand and be robust in their implementation of HTML and CSS.
ADA Title III: This is America’s most important web accessibility law and stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was put in place in 1990 by then US president George Bush and has provisions for web accessibility for people with disabilities. It requires employers to accommodate people with disabilities and businesses to make it easy for people with disabilities to access their services. This is where websites that are not compliant with ADA can find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Creating a website that makes it hard for people with disabilities to access services can result in your site being held legally liable.
EAA/EN 301549: This is the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and is made specifically for countries in the European Union. They mandate accessibility standards for various digital products and services.
ACA: The Accessibility Canada Act (ACA) is the Canadian equivalent of EAA which requires companies and digital products to comply with web accessibility rules. Canada is very serious in enforcing the ACA and companies and websites that do not comply with web accessibility can find themselves legally being sued by the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO) which is led majorly by Canadians with disabilities.
Section 508: The legislation has been in effect since the 1970s, and addresses accommodation of people with disability. In 2017, it was updated to include the WCAG compliance, content accessibility, synchronization and expanded marketplace to increase web accessibility for disabled US citizens.
AODA: This is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and protects people with disability from Ontario province, Canada. Its web accessibility is based on WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Website Accessibility can certainly feel overwhelming but know that you’re not alone. Partnering with an experienced website company can help protect you and provide the best experience for your users. Contact us today for a free accessibility consultation.