Why Web Accessibility Should Matter to Your Organization
It might surprise you to learn that 15% of the world population has a disability that affects their web experiences. That’s why web accessibility matters. Accessibility is the practice of making your digital experiences as inclusive as possible to users with special needs, like the 15% of people who may have visual, hearing, cognitive, or motor impairments.
There are several ethical, legal, and business reasons to invest in accessibility. One important business reason is that you could exclude a large population of potential customers, members, or patients with an inaccessible website. By doing that you could fail to reach an audience with significant spending power that also shows strong loyalty to brands that focus on accessibility.
To share some other more specific reasons you should invest in accessibility, team members from across Velir weighed in. Here’s what they had to say:
Visual Design: Providing Easy Access for Everyone
One of the main reasons why people stray from accessibility in design is that they feel like it’s a lot of effort for a very small group of people—the idea that “we just can’t design for everyone.” Maybe it’s because we tend to think about accessibility as something that only caters to people with mobility issues or people who are blind or deaf. But people with disabilities aren’t the edge cases we make them out to be. Accessibility is equally important for people we may not consider having disabilities, such as those who need glasses, those who are color blind, or those with motion sensitivities. Often, our own biases stand in the way of the actual accessibility issues we can address.
This became even clearer during this past year where we saw a massive shift toward online tools during the pandemic. A lot of companies had to play catch up to correct accessibility issues. And since the web continues to be an integral part in our lives, these issues will become more prevalent unless we make accessibility part of the design process from start. For designers, this means thinking about proper contrast between colors, and type variations that are legible and easy to read. All these tiny considerations help create a web that’s easier to access for everyone.
Does designing with accessibility in mind from the start require extra effort? Yes, but it always pays off in the end. Accessibility shouldn’t be seen as giving people special treatment. We should see it as the very base of what we can provide users. Also don’t forget that people and their requirements change. Someone who you might consider an average user one month could be a user with disabilities the next month due to a new temporary or permanent disability. If you want people to continue to use your product/service/tool, it’s in your best interest to make them usable for everyone, no matter who they are.
Instead of seeing accessible design as something that forces you to design with limitations, look at it as a set of challenges that will push you and make you think about your designs in a different way. Your designs will be better for everyone, not just users with disabilities.
And look, I made it this far without even mentioning the legal requirements for accessibility.
— Farid Safaie, Senior Visual Designer
Quality Assurance: Accounting for More Than Just the “Happy Path”
When testing a site, it’s my responsibility to keep users in mind—what flows they could follow, and what issues they could have. It’s not enough to only test the “happy path.” We must test for a variety of accessibility needs like blindness/low-vision, mobility impairments, and epilepsy. While my testing can never fully replicate the experience of someone with these accessibility needs, tools help. By testing with keyboard only (no mouse) or with a screen reader, I can surface accessibility defects before they become severe issues for users.
— Nicole O’Keeffe, Senior QA Engineer
User Experience: Removing Obstacles to Access
A large part of a UX designer’s role is to reduce the friction between a user and their goals. With inaccessible digital products, there can be substantial obstacles, which can make the product impossible to use for some people. As UX designers we want people to have positive experiences with our digital products. But we know not everyone accesses content in the same way.
Part of this mindset is in letting go of assumptions. For instance, don’t assume that users can distinguish between colors. We’ve all seen products that attempted to express information through color coding alone, with the assumption that all users can see all hues. Instead, you need to complement colors with meaningful labels and iconography, creating a trifecta that allows users to absorb information in various ways. Accessibility is vital in UX because of inclusive practices like this one, which meet users where they are.
— Phil Bolles, Director of UX
Content: Keeping it Clear and Simple
Accessibility doesn't end with design and development. Even if your colors, fonts, and code are accessible, you also need to write content that's organized and easy to understand. If your content is inaccessible, you could prevent users with disabilities from accomplishing critical tasks you need for your organization to succeed. This could be the difference between someone making a purchase or leaving your website.
To create accessible content, keep physical and cognitive disabilities in mind. Write for people with both by making your content clear and simple. Use descriptive headings to group related paragraphs and to give readers an outline of your content. Make sure instructions and error messages are easy to understand. Be specific about what you need from users when they’re filling out forms, such as the required formats for each field. Also, if a user receives an error, it should clearly indicate what the problem is and how to fix it.
Not sure about the readability of your content? Try tools like Hemingway Editor. They can measure the readability of your text, and help you aim for a readability level of grade 8 and lower, which meets Web Content Accessibility (WCAG) standards. Making sure your content is readable makes a better experience for all users, allowing them to easily absorb your content and act based on it.
— Evan Crean, Senior Copywriter
Development: Coding with Best Practices
Since the Internet is such an integral part of our daily lives, inaccessible websites create a digital redline for people with disabilities. Inaccessible code allows for only a subset of users to access information and services, perpetuating inequalities among an already marginalized group. For example, a tooltip can convey important contextual information to the user on a purchasing form, but if it's only available when a user hovers over a help icon, keyboard users will miss out completely, making their experience much more difficult and potentially causing them to leave the transaction all together. According to the CDC, that group potentially includes 1 in 4 American adults living with a disability. If you do not develop your site to accessible standards, you risk cutting out 25% of potential users. Fortunately, semantic code is accessible code. In developing an accessible site, you are using coding best practices—making your site more compliant not just for assistive technologies, but across browsers. This benefits everyone.
— Stacey Schlanger and Ari Ross, Front End Developers
Investing in accessibility is a good business decision because it helps you build brand loyalty with audiences with disabilities. It also helps you reach a sizable audience with significant spending power and protects your organization from expensive ADA Title III lawsuits. But aside from the financial reasons for investing accessibility, it can help you increase access for more users, test your digital experiences more effectively, remove obstacles in the user journey, write more inclusive content, and create code that serves all your users effectively.