The Basics of Web Accessibility
We get a lot of questions about web accessibility here at Siteimprove, and I would like to take this opportunity to answer some of them. This is probably more of a review for seasoned accessibility folks, but there’s a growing demand for this kind of introductory information as more web professionals recognize the importance of accessibility.
What is Web Accessibility and why is it important to the success of my website?
Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed, and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality.
Which standards should I use?
Depending on your location, there may be various sets of accessibility standards that you will need to follow. Fortunately, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a comprehensive list called the WCAG 2.0 that has been widely adopted, and is the base set of guidelines for most other standards. Below are a few examples of location-specific standards to look at:
- Section 508 (U.S.)
- The European Commission’s Web Accessibility policy
- Web Standards for the Government of Canada
What are the benefits of website accessible coding standards?
There are quite a few benefits to coding accessibility into your website that go beyond just meeting the minimum accessibility laws:
It’s time to act socially responsible. Accessibility is about allowing people with and without disabilities to have access to the information they want and need. As our population changes, we need to educate the people responsible for generating communication channels to be aware of ALL of our different users.
A Larger Customer Base
With reports of one in five people in the US claiming some sort of disability, 20% of the population is just too large of a group to ignore. If you go the extra steps to accommodate this group, you will be certain of a loyal group of customers.
Once you’ve developed a clean, accessible code base, you will be amazed at the benefits. Efficient code can help improve:
- Website maintenance
- Device compatibility
- Faster page loading
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
What are the “Nuts and Bolts” of web accessibility?
We receive many accessibility questions that are more technical in nature, because the standards can get pretty complex. Some of the most important coding practices are quite simple to control in your different coding environments, for example:
- Semantic Markup
- Page Titles
- Tables and Forms
Addressing these areas adds an immense amount of usability to your overall site, and provides a solid framework to build on. You can find several introductory guides to these individual aspects of web accessibility on our blog.
What is Assistive Technology?
When talking about assistive devices to aid visitors with disabilities, the first and sometimes only device that comes to most people’s mind is a screen reader (if you haven’t heard of a screen reader, it’s a tool that reads pages aloud to people with low vision or severe dyslexia). While screen readers are an extremely important assistive device, it’s by no means the only device. Other assistive technologies are used to support a wide range of disabilities. These technologies include:
- Screen readers
- Windows and Mac Accessibility features
- Color contrast analyzers
- Toolbars/extensions/plug ins
- Mobile devices
When optimizing your website to accommodate users with disabilities, it’s important to understand what kind of issues they may encounter depending on the type of assistive technology they may be using. Read more about assistive technology in this post.
How do I get started?
We’re offering an on-demand webinar on getting started with a web accessibility plan. We’ll cover all the questions mentioned here in greater detail, and help outline an approach that you can work right into your existing workflows with (hopefully) minimal disruption.
If you’re already doing most of the things you need to, the webinar is still a valuable way to point out a few things to add that will assist with your accessibility goals. We’ll discuss:
- Knowing the Rules
- Practical Testing and Training Plans
- Low-hanging Fruit
- High Traffic Pages
- A-level Errors
- Report and Track Progress