User experience (UX) has been a hot topic for the last decade. More organizations than ever before are putting people-first design at the forefront of their priorities.
This makes sense from a business perspective; no one wants to use an app or website that is unintuitive or not user-friendly.
However, a segment of users are typically left out of the UX equation: people with disabilities.
People with disabilities who are using a product are also that product’s users, but the discipline of user experience doesn’t encompass the technologies or techniques aimed at optimizing their experience. Instead, a completely separate discipline is charged with that responsibility: web accessibility.
Web accessibility encompasses the practices, tools and metrics that optimize websites for those with special needs.
Web accessibility is an interlinking web of software solutions used to measure the usability of a product alongside accessibility technology. It also includes the software that companies use to make their website accessible as well as the tools people with special needs use on the internet.
Web accessibility considers the technologies used by those who are differently abled. This includes those with auditory, visual, physical, cognitive, neurological and learning disabilities.
Accessible websites are compatible with these technologies and may be designed around the needs of those with disabilities. This includes things like fonts that are easily read by those with dyslexia or colors that help those with colorblindness or low vision.
Why web accessibility is important for your business
Businesses have moral and legal incentives to keep the needs of the differently abled in mind when building and maintaining their products.
Who needs web accessibility?
Investing in web accessibility practices ensures people with disabilities have equal access to your products.
For many businesses, website accessibility is an afterthought. It’s easy to think that only a small portion of users will need accessibility technology when using a product, but that is not the case and the number is often much larger than people think.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.3 billion people live with some kind of vision impairment, accounting for almost 20 percent of the world’s population. In another report from the World Health Organization, 39 million people worldwide are blind. While this can often be corrected with glasses or surgery, there are some forms of visual impairment that cannot be corrected, and those living with them must use software like screen readers to use the internet.
Most people have a difficult time imagining the needs of people with disabilities and are ignorant to the accommodations they require. Without context or an immediate inconvenience to oneself, plenty of people fall into a sense of apathy.
Even those without disabilities might need web accessibility technology as they age. 65 percent of those with visual impairments and 82 percent of those with blindness are 50 and older.
And the examples above are just in terms of vision. That doesn’t account for other types of disabilities like motor, auditory, or cognitive disabilities. According to the last US Census, 20 percent of the U.S. population has some type of disability.
While it’s easy to remove ourselves from those with accessibility needs now, in time many people will find that they themselves requiring accessibility tools in some fashion. Technology is only embedding itself further into our everyday lives. Businesses would be wise to accommodate for the needs of their users both in the present and the future.
Web accessibility compliance
Depending on your location, the price for web accessibility compliance failures can be quite high.
In the United States, government websites must comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which stipulates that state and local government services cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. According to the ADA website, government websites must be accessible or face fines up to $75,000 on a first violation and $150,000 on a subsequent violation.
For businesses, compliance can be a much greyer area in terms of web presence. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. Before the advent of the internet, this applied to physical spaces like stores and restaurants, but the digital age has brought ambiguity to the definition of that term.
People with disabilities have taken businesses with non-compliant websites to court. They argue that a business’ website counts as a place of public accommodation and thereby has to comply with the ADA. While the outcomes of these lawsuits have varied, most courts have agreed that Title III does include websites. Noncompliant businesses could be faced with similar fines placed on government entities for violating Title III.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) released a set of guidelines in 1999 called the Web Content Guidelines (WCAG) to help facilitate the adoption of accessible web design. These were updated in 2008 and is now referred to as the WCAG 2.0. The WCAG 2.0 has become the standard for web accessibility. Learning about these guidelines can help your organization keep up with regulations.
Why is web accessibility important?
While this blog stresses the importance of website accessibility from the perspective of a business and highlights the business-related ramifications of noncompliance, it’s imperative to keep in mind that these measures are in place for users.
Real people are affected when a website isn’t compatible with the technology they need.
As technology becomes a larger part of the human experience, we have a vested interest in making sure all people are included in that experience.