Why Should I Consider Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility helps provide a good user experience.
The primary reasoning behind accessibility on the web is to allow people with reasonable physical, mental, or other disability to be able to access and use a website just as an otherwise able person can. As time progresses and technology further becomes an integral part of life, these principles become more and more important.
There are a couple perspectives you may consider when deciding if you want to pursue it.
From a development point of view, you want people to use your website / app, and many people have a temporary or permanent impairment that should be considered when creating your site.
From a business perspective, you are potentially missing sales directly, but perhaps more pressing is that if you’re in the US, you’re site will need to be accessible under the Americans with Disability Act. This ensures those with physical or other disabilities can access government or other important buildings, but is soon going to be enforced on websites. If you fail to comply with standards based on WCAG 2.0, you may face litigation that could be a costly venture.
Types of Disabilities
Temporary or permanent, disabilities to consider are primarily visual, motor / dexterity, auditory, and cognitive. Chances are you will probably experience some kind of disability in your lifetime and our goal is to not not let that disability inhibit your experience on the web. These impairments can be related to eyesight, hearing, motor skills, etc. for both temporary or permanent.
Most people probably experience temporary impairments all the time. For example, sunlight shining on your phone making it hard to read, websites being hard to read on a phone (not responsive), or even selective situations such as trying to watch a lecture or video of a person talking without headphones in a quiet environment. Some of these temporary issues may not seem as important as more permanent disabilities, but they likely share similarities with a person with a similar permanent impairment.
- Blind (partially or fully)
- Colorblind (1/12 men or 8% and 1/200 women or 0.5%)
- Motor impairment
- Cognitive (ADHD, dyslexia, autism, etc.)
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of guidelines developed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) in cooperation with the global community "with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally." Basically, WCAG 2.0 is the second iteration of guidelines that outline and guide web developers how to make the web more accessible. For actionable checklist items, read through W3C’s provided quick reference. Another great resource is the community-driven A11Y project.
The WCAG’s 12 guidelines ensure content is perceivable, operable, understandable, *and *robust. There are three levels of success criteria for most items: A, AA, and AAA. More A’s indicate better accessibility but will also limit certain design decisions such as color selection (color contrast) or font size.
Content should have text alternatives (captions for videos), be presentable in different ways without losing meaning, and be easy for users to see and hear content.
Your app or site should function with just a keyboard, give users time to consume/use the content, be aware of and don’t use seizure-causing content, and help users navigate and find content.
Ensure content operates predictably, help avoid and correct errors, and make text readable and understandable.
Strive to future-proof compatibility with current and future user tools such as screen readers or different sized devices.
Testing For Accessibility
There are many different tools that help developers test their apps for different types of accessibility.
- Web accessibility evaluation tool (WAVE)
- Lighthouse provides helpful insight for your site
- Accessibility developer tools Chrome plugin
- Blind - Screen reader (Google TalkBack for Android)
- Colorblind - Color Oracle, high contrast mode in browser
- Deuteranopia or deuteranomaly: 5% of all men
- Protanopia or protanomaly: 2.5% of all men
- Tritanopia: Less than 0.3% of women and men
- Motor - Keyboard only (tab + shift tab)
- Deaf - Screen reader
- Cognitive - Zoom 200 - 400%
2018 and Beyond
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) will amend Title III which prohibits discriminations of disabled people using federal institutions’ and public accommodating websites (restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors' offices to name a few) sometime in 2018. They have delayed setting specific requirements to the ADA Title III compliance a few times now, but have referred to the WCAG 2.0 AA as a point of reference to follow.
Recent years and months have seen a surge in litigation against companies that don’t comply: in 2014, the DOJ received 4436 accessibility complaints—a 63% increase over 2013, an 8% increase in 2015 from 2014, and a 37% increase in 2016 from 2015. Here are a few recent cases that should give you some perspective:
- A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Target Corporation
- A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Sydney Olympics Website
- A blind user continues lawsuit against Hobby Lobby after their attempt to dismiss the case.
- Netflix Settles Massachusetts Web Video Captioning Action
- First Federal Trial on Website Accessibility: Winn-Dixie Violates ADA
- California Court Rules Retailer’s Inaccessible Website Violates ADA
While cases like these are increasing in frequency due to, in some instances, litigation threat, they are creating an awareness of inaccessible websites and how we should build content for them going forward.
Web accessibility is all about providing a good experience to your users. As there are many users that require certain accommodation, it’s our responsibility as developers and content creators to account and create for such accommodations.