The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool that connects us across the globe. Every day, we use the Internet for education, business, entertainment, socializing, healthcare, and so much more. Access to the web has become inextricably linked to most parts of our lives, and is crucial for participation in modern society. So, why aren’t we building websites that are accessible to everyone?
According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults (26%) in the U.S. have a disability. In 2020, the World Bank reported roughly one billion people (15%) living with disabilities world-wide. These are huge numbers! Types of disabilities are complex and wide-ranging, but with the Internet we have the ability to cater to everyone. This is where website accessibility comes in. An accessible internet gives everyone (with or without disabilities) access to this necessary tool.
Considering a Range of Disabilities
There is not a one-size-fits-all for disabilities. They can be permanent, temporary/situational, and exist on a spectrum. Whether a person is blind, deaf, aging, has a cognitive impairment, a broken arm, or simply a slow internet connection, we should consider it all.
If you don’t have a disability, you are probably used to using the Internet in a particular way without thinking of the alternatives. But if you do have a disability, you’ve most likely adapted to using the Internet in a way that works best for you. Tools like screen readers dictate web pages to those who are visually impaired. The screen readers use alt text to describe images on your website so people with visual impairment don’t miss out on important content. Keyboard shortcuts allow folks with limited motor functions to navigate websites more easily. And the list goes on. However, these tools aren’t useful if a website isn’t set up for them. It is up to individual websites to make themselves accessible for everyone. Fortunately, the benefits are worth it.
A Wide Range of Benefits
Creating an accessible Internet so everyone has equal access to information should be reason enough to make necessary changes to your site. Beyond that, accessibility offers other advantages. Making the internet accessible improves overall usability and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
In its simplest terms: making a website easier to use for people with barriers, will make that website easier to use for everyone. Consider the case of a slow internet connection. If you design your website with images that are appropriately sized to account for various internet speeds, and include alt tags (image descriptions), then your website will load at an appropriate speed, and be legible even if you only load the html version of the site. In this example, designing a website for someone with a slow internet also benefits: people who use screen readers, everyone looking for a fast user experience (UX), and the website owner who now has improved SEO based on speed and alt tags.
When doing research on the subject, you’ll find that alt-tags are a hot talking point. While they are a relatively easy fix, they aren’t the end-all-be-all of accessibility. Website accessibility is affected by everything from website structure on the front-end and back-end, ordering content meaningfully, color use, text resizing ability, easy and consistent navigation tools, captioned audio, and so much more. These are also the components of a website that contribute to a better experience for everyone.
Making Sure Your Website is Accessible
Accessibility can no longer be an afterthought, or a nice-to-have, because…
The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for people with disabilities to sue retailers if their websites are not accessible. Not only must a business’ physical locations be ADA compliant, but their websites and mobile apps must be accessible as well.
With a better understanding of the benefits of accessibility, and hazards of an inaccessible site, you may be wondering how yours holds up. There are many free online resources that test if your website meets proper accessibility standards. It is important to note that these tests are good to get a gauge of how you’re doing, but a more thorough audit will ensure that your site is up to snuff.
Knowing what to do with this information can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Contact your website developer for help in assessing and addressing accessibility on your site. While it is ideal to consider accessibility at the creation of your site, it isn’t impossible to make a website accessible after-the-fact. Even if your web developer isn’t an accessibility expert, they can still point you in the right direction.