Experience Design

A Brief Overview of Web Accessibility

The web has grown to play a significant role in how we consume information, with a direct correlation to how we live our lives. But accessing the web isn’t always easy for every user. One in four adults in the United States live with some type of disability, either permanent, temporary, or situational. This can make it difficult for them to access the internet or use digital devices that allow them to perform simple, everyday tasks.

Building and maintaining accessible web experiences allows individuals with disabilities equal access to the important services and features the web provides, such as education, online shopping, recreation, health services, and more. Your business can create these enhanced online experiences by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) throughout your design and development practices.

Why We Need Web Accessibility

WCAG is the global standard in digital accessibility developed by the World Wide Consortium (W3C) to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Developers of web content, web authoring tools, web accessibility evaluation tools, and others interested in accessible design utilize and refer to WCAG to produce accessible online experiences and technology.

WCAG 2.1 is the most recent list of best practices for making your website and web content more accessible by addressing those with auditory, physical, speech, visual, neurological, and language disabilities. These best practices include the four main principles of accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR), and provides guidelines, testable success criteria, and advisory techniques that help developers meet and exceed each principle.

Web Accessibility and ADA Compliance

For your web experience to be truly accessible, it needs to be compliant with The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was created to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Your website or device must adhere to the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, meaning electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Although The U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t released official ADA compliance guidelines, it recommends following three levels of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines:

Level A: Build a website that some users can access.

Level AA: Build a website that almost all users can access. Every website should at least be AA compliant.

Level AAA: Build a website that all users can access.

Each of these levels has a different set of guidelines and rules designers and developers must meet to be at that level of compliance.

Web Accessibility Matters for Multiple Reasons

Optimizing your site to be fully accessible can help in a variety of areas, such as:

Legal Compliance

The ADA is the most cited law regarding web accessibility compliance and prohibits discrimination based on disability in places of public accommodation. The Department of Justice affirmed that ADA does apply to websites and interprets them as places of accommodation in legal cases.

Improved Reputation

Creating a fully accessible website, web application, or technical device portrays social responsibility and empathy to all users, resulting in a positive impact on brand reputation. A Forbes study regarding corporate social responsibility showed that 88% of participants would be more loyal to businesses that advocated for social issues, and 92% of them would trust them more.

Some elements such as title tags, heading structure, alt text, and responsive design are things all websites should include. Ensuring these are created properly done with ADA Compliance in mind will maximize your website’s effectiveness.

Customer Acquisition

Building accessible web experiences let users with disabilities know their rights and business is welcome and valued, creating trusting relationships with current customers and expanding to new prospects.

A Solution for All Users

Understanding the importance of web accessibility is not only a moral and ethical obligation but creating accessible web experiences brings a positive impact and eliminates barriers to those with disabilities. In my next piece, I will cover different tools to use to test and fix web accessibility issues. In the meantime, contact our experience design experts for more information on designing for accessibility and read our UX for Accessible Design series.

About the Author

Apurva Bele is a lead technical consultant working as a front-end developer with the DCS team. He enjoys learning and exploring new frameworks and tools related to UI, and he loves sharing his knowledge with the team.

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