The Importance of Accessible Websites

Accessibility can often seem like an after-thought — especially for people who haven’t had the firsthand experience of living with a disability. It’s this kind of perspective that makes some website owners speculate:

“Is making my site accessible really worth the trouble?”

Let’s take some time to walk through the challenge of accessible websites — and why it should be a serious consideration for your business.

1. Your site should be accessible because everyone should be given the opportunity to navigate, perceive, and interact on the internet.

Refreshable braille displays are an assistive technology commonly used by visually impaired computer users.
Refreshable braille displays are an assistive technology that is commonly used by computer users with visual disabilities.

Web accessibility is an issue that affects many people in many different ways. In the 2010 U.S. Census, a staggering 19 percent of the U.S. population was classified as having a disability. That means that 56.7 million people are living with some form of visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, or neurological disabilities.

Even if you are not part of that 19 percent right now, you most likely will be at some point in your life. According to Cornell University’s Disability Statistics, while only about 6 percent of people aged 16-20 reported having a disability in 2015, that figure shoots up to about 36 percent after age 65 and 50 percent by age 75.

It’s also important to note that technology created with accessibility in mind also benefits non-disabled people. Accessible technology can offer alternative paths to accomplish virtual tasks regardless of ability. For example, voice recognition and voice-to-text software can help people who find typing painful or who struggle with crafting sentences due to dyslexia or another cognitive disability. But it can also be extremely appealing to able-bodied people who simply appreciate the convenience of voice query tools, such as Apple’s Siri personal assistant.

That’s not the only example of how accessibility principles can improve the lives of non-disabled people. If users are grappling with slow internet connections and your site’s page elements are not loading properly or quickly enough, it can be enough of a frustrating experience for them to simply abandon loading the page. That’s why it’s critical to optimize your site’s design and content to ensure it loads quickly and offers a intuitive, streamlined user experience.

The fact is, everyone benefits from accessible content and design.

2. Your site should be accessible because you can be penalized if it is not.

The internet is integrated into the daily life of nearly every person in society — people use it to find employment, obtain educations, manage their finances, order groceries, sign up for governmental services, and communicate with other people. Unfortunately, barriers to web accessibility make it challenging or downright impossible for disabled people to attain equal access and equal opportunity to these materials and resources.

That’s why web accessibility is not only an issue of corporate social responsibility — in some cases, it’s required by law.

In June 2017, a federal judge in Florida ruled that grocer Winn-Dixie was in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for maintaining an inaccessible website. The plaintiff, who is blind and relies on screen reader software to access websites, was unable to use the grocer’s website to download coupons, order prescriptions, or find store locations.

This trial is the first in the ADA’s history to the alleged inaccessibility of a website, and as attorney Minh N. Vu of Seyfarth Shaw explains, it is also notable for the court’s adoption of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the de facto standard by which Winn-Dixie must meet to ensure its website is accessible.

“WCAG 2.0 AA is a set of guidelines developed by a private group of accessibility experts and has not been adopted as the legal standard for public accommodation websites, although it has been incorporated into many consent decrees, settlement agreements, and is the standard the Department of Justice referenced in the Title II rulemaking process,” Vu explains.

Becoming embroiled in a web accessibility lawsuit can be easily avoidable if you remain pro-active about ensuring your site is usable by everyone, regardless of ability.

Test to see if your site is WCAG 2.0 AA ready

3. With a bit of foresight, ensuring that your site is accessible is not nearly as challenging as you might think.

While you may require the assistance of a developer to make major accessibility fixes or sweeping revamps, there are plenty of things that can be done to ensure your site is accessible.

If you’re in charge of managing your business’ online presence, here are a few tips to keep in mind when updating the website:

  • Always write image alt text that accurately describes what a user is meant to perceive. Empty alt attributes should only be used if the image is purely decorative.
  • Whenever possible, include meaningful captions under or next to the image to provide additional context.
  • Avoid using images featuring text — the words cannot be processed by a screen reading software.
  • Use easy-to-read fonts and accessible color contrast ratios.
  • Include written transcripts alongside all video content, whether it’s hosted on your site or a platform like YouTube or Vimeo.
  • Plan out your site hierarchy and page structures logically and thoughtfully. Headings (H1s, H2s, etc) should all follow a logical nested order.
  • Make sure users have the ability to control videos, GIFs, and sliding carousels.
  • Keep your website’s CMS, plugins, and other features consistently updated.

An added bonus of prioritizing your site’s accessibility? It can also benefit your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Search engines give preferential treatment to websites that can be accessed by as many users as possible, which is why they reward accessible sites with a boost in their rankings.

Ready to improve your site’s accessibility?

At Southern Web, we can help ensure that your website meets WCAG 2.0 AAA web accessibility guidelines. Contact us today to learn more about our web development services.


Image of refreshable braille display: Sebastien.delorme