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What is website accessibility, and why is it important for your business?

February 11, 2020  |   Haley Young

It’s been almost 30 years since the internet first rocked the world, and we rely on our interconnected devices now more than ever. As digital marketing rises in popularity, so do a few “buzzwords” — and website accessibility is one of them.

So what is website accessibility, why is it important, and how can it affect your business’s bottom line?

Read on for the lowdown.

What does it mean for a website to be accessible?

Website accessibility icon

Website accessibility refers to how easy it is for a website to be used by anyone, regardless of whether or not they live with a disability.

To make a website accessible, developers need to intentionally make design decisions that don’t limit key functionality to only those people who have full hearing, vision, or so on.

There are many types of disabilities that can affect how someone navigates the web. Those who are visually impaired often use screen readers to parse website content for them, while those with limited hearing rely on closed captions.

In addition, many people struggle to watch intense motion — even simple parallax scrolling can trigger nausea or even epilepsy in some individuals.

And whether or not someone has a permanent disability, most of us can still benefit from accessible website accommodations at some point or another.

Have you ever wanted to watch a video in a public place only to realize you can’t find your headphones? What about been looking at your phone screen in bright light and wishing it had higher contrast? Yeah, us too.

Bottom line: website accessibility makes the internet a better place for everyone.

Web accessibility sounds nice… but is it really necessary?

Website accessibility is important icon

I mean, what if your current customers aren’t complaining? What if you haven’t had any known accessibility issues thus far? Don’t fix it if it’s not broken… right?

Not so fast.

Making your website accessible for everyone is absolutely imperative moving into the 2020s, even if your current business model doesn’t cater to those who live with a disability.

Here’s why.

SEO best practices are all in line with website accessibility standards.

You read that right. Google is moving websites that follow accessibility standards to the top of its search engine results pages, and it’s penalizing sites that don’t comply.

That means that even if no humans are complaining about your website’s current user experience, your business could still be negatively impacted if you don’t meet modern standards.

Making your website accessible won’t just help people who use screen readers or other adaptive technology — it will also ensure that search engines properly crawl, index, and display your content.

More than 12 percent of Americans live with a disability.

If your business has any hope of growing (as most of ours do), you’ll want to ensure that your content can appeal to a wide audience — and people with disabilities are the largest minority in the world.

More than seven million people in the United States have some sort of visual impairment, and 48 million experience some degree of hearing loss.

If your website isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, you’re not just limiting their experience on the web — you’re also eliminating a large number of potential customers.

How can you make your business’s website more accessible?

Website accessibility checklist icon

Accessibility can sound overwhelming, especially if your current website falls short of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set by the W3C (basically the “gold standard” of website accessibility).

But making your business’s website friendly to all users doesn’t have to be scary — chances are you could implement a few accessibility “easy wins” on your business’s website within the next month.

Here are a few places to start.

Alternate text attributes for images

The alternate text attribute is what will be read or displayed in place of an image if a user is either visually impaired or browsing the web with images turned off.

You should add appropriate, descriptive alt tags to any images on your website that could impact a user’s understanding — and you should leave the alt tags of purely decorative images blank so as to not confuse someone using a screen reader.

Keyboard-based navigation

Imagine navigating your website with nothing but your keyboard. Better yet, go try it out right now. What’s the experience like?

Most screen reader technologies are entirely keyboard-based, which means it’s absolutely vital that your website can be used without a mouse if you want it to be accessible to anyone with a visual impairment.

Descriptive link text

Some screen readers will pull all of the links on a page out into a list, just using the anchor text without any of the surrounding sentences. This means it’s important to make sure that every text link on your page accurately describes where it will take a user.

Semantic HTML

There are a slew of default HTML tags out there for specific webpage structuring purposes — for example, <button> designates a clickable button and <h1> indicates a first-level heading. Using the appropriate tags for each element on your page will help screen readers navigate them properly and enable the convenient “reader view” option on most mobile devices.

Closed captions

More than 20 percent of Americans have some form of hearing loss, and as much as 85 percent of all internet videos are viewed without sound. You should add closed captions to any media that isn’t otherwise comprehensible without audio.

Color contrast, focus styles, table structure, and more

For a complete website accessibility checklist, head on over to The A11Y Project website. They’re one of the leading sources dedicated to creating a user-friendly web for everyone.

If you need help making your company’s website accessible — or really doing anything for your business online — don’t hesitate to get in touch! We live and breathe web design and development here at TDR, and we’ve got a few awesome nerds employees who are sure to get the job done.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Haley Young

Haley Young

 | Content Specialist