Web accessibility is an inclusive design that ensures everyone can access your website, no matter their abilities. In the same way a ramp on the sidewalk makes sure someone in a wheelchair can get over the curb, having an alternative (alt) text on an image can make sure someone using a screen-reader can understand what the image conveys.
Types of Disabilities
Globally, 1 in 5 people have some form of a disability and someone's ability can change over time. For example, as adults age, they may lose some of their sight or hearing. A disability can also be temporary such as a broken arm or misplaced glasses. Sometimes the disability can be situational: someone on a busy subway who cannot hear the audio in a video would rather read captions, and someone by the pool in bright sunlight is in need of high contrast.
Disabilities vary considerably. Some users with poor eyesight need high contrast and to increase the font size to access the content. Users who are blind need a screen-reader to access websites. Users who cannot hear need alternatives to access the audio content. Users with a mobility impairment may need to use voice activated commands or a mouse alternative such as a mouth-operated joystick to access the content. Users with epilepsy need to avoid quickly flashing content.
How to Make Your Website Accessible
The best way to ensure your website is accessible is to provide multiple ways of accessing your content, such as alt text for images, captions for video and the ability to navigate with a keyboard instead of a mouse. Making sure the layout and structure of your website is logical, intuitive and simple to navigate can also make it easier to use for everyone.
Why Web Accessibility Matters
Well, maybe now you're saying to yourself equal access sounds nice, but why should I care about web accessibility? This seems like an extra headache that is going to cost me money. Well, in fact, not caring about accessibility is going to cost you money. If your website is not accessible, you risk losing a significant portion of potential clients since 20% of the population will not be able to use your site. Second, the law mandates it.
In the US, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act includes websites and now applies to any public-facing businesses and private businesses in 12 categories, including sales, entertainment, service establishments, recreation and more. A website which is deemed inaccessible to someone with a disability can be forced to immediately redesign the website and to pay monetary damages and the other party's attorney fees.
In Canada, four provinces currently have web accessibility laws: Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is the most comprehensive of the four, and aims to create a barrier-free Ontario by 2025. To this end, by 2021 all private and non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees and all public organizations must make their websites compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The federal government is looking to pass web accessibility guidelines in the near future with the aim of enforcing WCAG. We can expect Canadian federal web accessibility laws to be rolled out soon.
With all this in mind, it makes sense to build accessibility into your website design and updates now before you are hastily forced to do so by new laws. Or, before you get sued. In 2019, the pizza giant Domino's famously lost a US Supreme Court Case (Domino's Pizza v. Guillermo Robles) by failing to make their website accessible to a blind man who used a screen reader to access their site and mobile app. And their brand will forever be remembered as the big bad pizza chain who went up against a blind man in court. And lost. Don't be Domino's. The damage to your brand alone is reason enough.
Accessibility Is a Human Right
Web accessibility is a human rights issue. It is imperative that everyone can access the same services in society, no matter their abilities. Now more than ever, many essential services, such as banking, healthcare, utilities bills and education are moving online. The laws have been slow to catch up to the internet but as the internet becomes more and more integrated into our everyday lives, the courts are finally catching up. There is no time like the present to design a website with accessibility in mind, or to incorporate accessibility as you update your website. Also, it can just make it easier for everyone to navigate.