Summary: Accessible websites can be elegant, cost-effective, and involve all digital disciplines, creating online experiences that everyone can use.
As a full-service digital agency, Reason One strives to create inclusive websites that provide equal access to information online. But what is web accessibility exactly? And why should we care about it? We’ll answer those questions in the process of busting a few myths about the subject.
What is web accessibility and why does it matter?
Web accessibility refers to the extent to which websites, tools, and online technologies are designed and developed so that all people can use them, including people with disabilities. The ultimate goal is that everyone has equal access to information by ensuring that everyone can perceive, understand, navigate, interact with, and contribute to the web.
If digital content creators don’t take web accessibility into account, your site can exclude visitors and prevent people from accessing the content they need.
When building or maintaining a website or tool, consider the following types of disabilities:
This is not a complete list, but it does bring us to our first myth...
Myth 1: “Web accessibility only benefits a small number of people”
There is a tendency to underestimate the number of individuals who live with disabilities. Disability includes permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities. Having a broken arm, trying to look at your phone in bright sunlight, disabilities that increase as we age — most of us will be disabled in some way, at some point in our life.
These three stats paint a pretty good picture of the disability landscape:
- 1 in 4 American adults (or 61 million people) currently live with one or more disabilities
- 15% of the global population report challenges in dealing with basic daily tasks and interactions
- Over 30% of Canadians will have some form of disability by the time they retire
Better access is good for everyone, and we often don’t account for ageing when we look at the statistics. So be selfish and design websites that you’ll be able to use when you’re older.
Major League Baseball’s Journey to Accessibility
The MLB didn’t know it had blind baseball fans until some of those fans contacted them and alerted the organization to the fact that their website was inaccessible.
Instead of writing off these fans as insignificant, the MLB worked with the American Council for the Blind and fast-tracked significant improvements to its website to help make the content more accessible. MLB then won an Access Award from the American Foundation for the Blind in 2012.
Baseball fan Brian Charlson has this to say once the changes were implemented: “This past year was the first time I could read the stats on all the players. All of it was accessible. Although I didn’t agree with all the All-Star selections, I felt like a part of it for the first time.”
That’s what smart design does. It includes everyone.
Myth 2: “Web accessibility is just a developer thing”
This is an easy myth to bust for our team. Reason One redesigned the website for Camp Ooch, a camp for children with cancer, adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) standards. The process brought in nearly every discipline, from development and design to content and quality assurance, to collaborate on different site elements.
Web accessibility is a shared responsibility. Whether you’re an account manager, developer, or creative team member, you play a role in delivering an accessible product!
Myth 3: “Accessible websites are ugly”
A creative challenge doesn’t have to be a challenge to creativity. When developers, designers, and content strategists work together, beautiful things are possible. And who doesn't like clean sites that are easy to use and read?
Our work for Camp Ooch is a good example of an accessible, vibrant, and engaging site.
The UK government has a great series of accessible design "dos and donts" posters to help you keep best practices in mind.
Myth 4: “Web accessibility is expensive and time-consuming”
Web accessibility isn’t something extra. It should be engrained in your process, whether you're building a site, creating content for an existing one. Better yet, bake accessibility into your company culture.
Once you're familiar with creating accessible websites, there is virtually no additional cost to building them from scratch. Considering accessibility in the planning phase of a project is another great way to cut down on the potential cost.
In fact, it might be more costly to ignore accessibility since it increases your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking. Plus, disabled people have massive amounts of purchasing power (this amounts to over ₤120 million a year in the UK alone). An inaccessible site excludes potential customers.
The bottom line is that web accessibility is an investment that may require training upfront, but it will definitely pay off when it becomes second nature.
Myth 5: “We don’t need to be compliant”
It’s very likely that you are currently legally required to meet web accessibility standards in your country, state, or province. And if you aren't, you will be soon.
Ontario has become the first Canadian province to enact legislation for accessibility, and organizations guilty of breaking the law can be fined up to $100,000 per day. Within the province, government sites must meet WCAG Level AA requirements. Websites of public, private or nonprofit organizations with more than 50 employees must meet WCAG Level AA requirements as of January 1, 2021.
Globally, laws are changing, with Japan, New Zealand and the European Union at WCAG Level A. Additionally, the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom all have broad accessibility laws that apply to the Web.
You can avoid the threat of potential lawsuits by staying compliant and asking for feedback. Disabled people don’t want to sue you, but sometimes they don’t have a choice.
Reason One can help you with web accessibility
If you’re in the business of creating websites or other online tools, it’s important to have a dedicated team. The Reason One Accessibility Team (r1at) meets weekly to discuss accessibility topics that cover all disciplines of web design.
In the end, web accessibility isn’t just about staying compliant or checking boxes. It’s about delivering solutions that don’t close the door to anyone. Everyone uses the web a little differently based on personal preferences, situations and abilities. It’s our job to reach as many people as possible.