The World Health Organization estimates that about 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability.
Furthermore, nearly everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in their life and those surviving to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning. Though often ignored, disability is part of the human condition.
Accessibility is increasingly a concern when planning a building, yet many websites are designed without accessibility in mind.
Accessible design helps make online content open to a wider range of people including those with disabilities that impact sight, hearing, comprehension and learning disabilities, movement, and speech. An accessible site basically ensures that people can navigate the site using a browser and assistive technology that is designed to help people interact with webpages.
With this in mind, we put together some reasons why you should think about accessibility when building a website.
Image by Jil Wright
1. Reach a wider audience
As stated above, 15 per cent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Nationally, 14.3 per cent of Canadians reported a disability according to Statistics Canada, and more than 12 per cent of Canadians live with some form of vision loss according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
This means that a site that’s compatible with screen reading software and other adaptive technology solutions can reach a significantly larger segment of the population This can also make your site stand out among other, less accessible sites.
2. Comply with Government Standards
World governments are implementing accessibility standards for people with disabilities for the webpages they operate.
In the US, Section 508 requires that federal agencies’ electronic and information technology be accessible to people with disabilities.
To meet its commitment to Web accessibility, the Government of Canada has adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. The latest Standard on Web Accessibility lays out a plan to make public-facing government sites more accessible over the next few years, and all new webpages created after October 1, 2011 must immediately conform.
In the province of Ontario, designated public sector organizations and large organizations will need to ensure their websites and content meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines. New websites and content on those sites must conform with WCAG 2.0, Level A by January 1, 2014. And by January 1, 2021, all sites and content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, other than live captions, and pre-recorded audio descriptions.
3. Search engines favour accessible websites
Search engines tend to overlook visual content in favour of simple, readable text and text labels found in the underlying Web code. Basic things that are expected to make a website accessible such as alternative text for images and distinguished headlines make a website visible to search engines. This is a win-win for Search Engine Optimization and accessibility.
4. Accessible websites work better on mobile phones
Good Web design practices are essential to making webpages that translate well to mobile browsers, but they’re also a baseline requirement for accessible sites. Some of the practices that make websites mobile friendly and accessible are the use of DIV elements and CSS styling, and avoiding Flash, which isn’t universally supported.
Accessible websites require more preparation and well-written source code. This added attention to detail means that sites are not only more accessible, but better interpreted by mobile browsers, and more intuitive to interact with on different sized screens with or without a mouse.
5. Accessible sites are more usable by everyone
Audiences of all stripes, especially older people and “non-techies”, find it easier to interact with a site that has usability taken into account.
“A primary focus of accessibility is access by people with disabilities. The larger scope of accessibility includes benefits to people without disabilities,” said Shawn Lawton Henry in the first chapter of her book Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. Making websites more accessible helps everyone, and as the “Baby Boomer” generation ages and more services go online, accessible design will play a more important role on the Web.
6. Your Site Can Express a Philosophy of Inclusiveness
Meeting accessibility standards can show visitors of all abilities that your organization values inclusiveness. If there aren’t specific accessibility requirements for your organization, you can be seen as a trailblazer.
The CNIB even lets you display an exclusive Site Check certification badge on your website if it passes an accessibility audit, showing visitors your organization’s forward-thinking approach to barrier-free Web design and commitment to customers.
The inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee is quoted as saying, “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Websites that follow Web accessibility guidelines help meet the Internet’s promise of connecting people from around the world.
In this spirit of connectivity, Kobayashi Online creates friendly online experiences, and is working to design sites that all visitors can use. Have any questions about accessible Web design? Please let us know!