The Beginner’s Guide to Website Accessibility

In 2018 alone, over 2000 lawsuits related to ADA accessibility to the Web were filed, and this number is only increasing. Aside from running the risk of getting sued, businesses are risking isolating a substantial portion of the population from interacting with your business by developing inaccessible sites. Accessibility is essential, so let’s break it down:

Barriers to accessibility

Unfortunately, crafting an accessible website isn’t as easy as it should be. There are three key reasons why:

  • Lack of legal definition of the demands of compliance

In 2018, the US Department of Justice avoided issuing digital accessibility regulations under the ADA, although this doesn’t change the stance that the ADA covers digital accessibility. Conflicting federal court rulings left lingering questions and some corporate confusion. Without clear legal outlines for companies to follow, many opt to avoid redevelopment entirely, leaving inaccessible websites in place in the interim.  

  • Robust non-binding standards

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, are published by the Web Accessibility Initiative and outline recommendations, or checkpoints, to make a websites accessible to those with disabilities. Each of the checkpoints is assigned a priority, with Priority 1 designation indicating they must satisfy the requirement to be considered accessible; priority 2 checkpoints should be satisfied; and priority three checkpoints may be satisfied.  While these robust standards are a great framework to follow, the WCAG aren’t legally binding, nor do they necessarily constitute legal standards of accessibility.  

  • Continued digital evolution 

Online content sharing changes quickly. Standards that would have qualified a site as “accessible” in the 90s likely wouldn’t hold up today. From new forms of photo and video to interactive webpages, accessibility standards must be fluid in order to account for the evolution of content presentation across the web. 

  • It’s expensive

Price is a common blocker to accessibility for existing sites with inaccessible design elements . hidden elements, dynamic moving experiences, paralaxing, scroll jacking, carousels and purely visual interaction make accessible browsing difficult. Often a company is better served engaging in redesign than trying to retrofit accessibility into a current site.

How to think “accessibility first”

Accessible-first thinking means considering the impact of accessibility at each level of design and development. This way of thinking can be boiled down to three parts: simplicity, consistency and intentionality. 

  • Simplicity

Simplifying the user experience means removing elements that are unnecessary from the page. Developers should aim to streamline content. This can be done by ensuring the page isn’t crowded with an inordinate number of experiences, avoiding complex visual presentations like carousels, and shying away from hidden content and hidden navigations. 

  • Consistency

Developers have to think of consistency from both an internal and external perspective. Internal consistency means consistency within the site or web property. For example, the layouts of something like forms should not differ from a business’s product page to its checkout page. There should be clear  purpose for the various user interface elements of the website. External consistency means making use of the vocabulary of the web. People are accustomed to finding things like a navigation bar at the top of the page and a footer at the bottom. The more that a site moves away from these norms, the more inconsistent they are with the broader web; thus, accessibility becomes endangered.

  • Intentional 

Intentionality goes hand in hand with consistency. The experiences put on a site should have a an expressed purpose. For example, a series of links should have a clearly defined purpose as a site section navigation. This purpose should be represented consistently across the entire site. 

Moving forward

It’s time for businesses to make web accessibility a priority. For more information on creating accessible websites, give this Avionos webinar a listen: Thinking Accessibility First.  

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