I have been making websites for small businesses via AshWebStudio since 1999. In that time, I have seen massive shifts in what things are taken into consideration when designing and building a website. In recent years, there has been a growing discussion around website accessibility and its importance for every website, but especially for small business owners.
Some argue that we have a moral or ethical obligation to make every website accessible to everyone. I don’t plan to get into this side of the discussion, instead, I want to focus on the practical and business implications.
What is Website Accessibility?
Website accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites that can be accessed by everyone, including people with disabilities. This includes individuals who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, have cognitive disabilities, or motor disabilities. The main principles of accessible web design include:
- Perceivable: The content must be presented in a way that can be perceived by all users, including those with visual or hearing impairments.
- Operable: All users must be able to navigate and interact with the website, regardless of their device or ability.
- Understandable: The website’s content and navigation must be clear and understandable to all users.
- Robust: The website must be compatible with various assistive technologies, including screen readers and voice recognition software.
Basically, an accessible website is one that allows even those with various disabilities to navigate and use your website either with assistive technologies or various browser settings. Web professionals like myself use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a resource for how to make a website accessible. WCAG has 3 levels of accessibility: A, AA, and AAA. Meeting AA guidelines is the minimum goal for a site to be considered accessible.
Why Does Accessibility Matter for Businesses?
These days, your website is the primary method your business communicates your service offerings to potential new customers or clients and can set the tone for a potential customer to choose to do business with you.
Increase the number of potential customers
The first and foremost benefit of having an accessible website means you have a larger audience to pull customers from. It might surprise you how many people are impacted by a website that is not accessible. Here are some stats related to various disabilities that would impact their usage of your website:
- In the United States, approximately 61 million adults (or 26% of the population) have some form of disability. (U.S. Census Bureau)
- About 10% of men and 8% of women worldwide have color vision deficiency, which can make it difficult to distinguish certain color contrasts on websites. (Colour Blind Awareness)
- About 2.2 billion people worldwide have a visual impairment, ranging from mild to severe. (World Health Organization)
- Approximately 4% of adults worldwide have ADHD, which can affect their ability to focus on website content. (World Health Organization)
By ensuring your website caters to the specific needs of these potential users and customers, you are increasing the number of people you can do business with. According to the Return on Disability Group, the disability market in the United States represents a $1 trillion market segment, with the purchasing power of people with disabilities reaching $490 billion annually. Additionally, a study by the American Institutes for Research found that businesses with accessible websites had higher revenue and profit margins than those that did not prioritize accessibility.
Convince more customers to work with you
By ensuring your website is accessible, you demonstrate your commitment to serving everyone in your target audience. This will not go unnoticed by those who need to interact with accessible websites and giving you a competitive advantage over your competitors.
Legal concerns about having an accessible website
The most common reason our clients or prospective customers bring up accessibility is the legal implications which is a valid concern. There is a growing wave of opportunistic lawyers suing small businesses when their website is not fully accessible as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to provide equal access to goods and services, which includes online content.
The common scenario that plays out is a lawyer, on behalf of a “client”, sues a small business solely for the goal of reaching a settlement out of court. From the few stories I have heard personally, this usually ranges from the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.
What does the website experience look like for those with a disability?
For those with various disabilities, their experience using a computer and your website can look very different than what it does for you. Often times special hardware or software is needed in order to help them interact. Some examples include:
- Screen readers: For individuals who are blind or have low vision, screen readers are software applications that read the content of a website aloud, providing a spoken representation of the website’s text and images.
- Keyboard navigation: Individuals with motor disabilities may not be able to use a mouse or other pointing device to navigate a website, and instead rely on keyboard navigation to access all website content and features.
- Alternative text descriptions: For individuals who are blind or have low vision, alternative text descriptions provide a text-based description of images on a website, allowing them to understand the content of the image.
- Closed captions: Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may rely on closed captions for videos to understand the content.
- Voice recognition software: Individuals who have limited mobility or dexterity may use voice recognition software to navigate a website and access content.
Practical Steps to Improve Website Accessibility
Many business owners are understandably not sure what it means to have an accessible website. To be blunt, even many web designers and developers do not know precisely what it means to have an accessible website. While there are available accessibility guidelines and the ADA laws, it is not explicitly clear what exact elements a website must have to not get sued. However, covering as many basis as you can will help make a better experience for your users and decrease chances of being sued.
Automated tools for web accessibility
There are many tools and companies out there promising to make your website accessible with little to no coding needed. These tools often add a little icon in the lower corner of your site so a website visitor can change certain aspects of the colors, contrast, font sizes, and other options to help make it more accessible.
While technically these solutions work and might help you avoid a lawsuit, my experience and discussions with those who need accessible websites have made it clear they actually hurt accessibility. These tools are often hard to use and require too much additional interaction for them to actually use. Imagine if every website you went to you first had to go through a 5 step process to manually configure the settings for the website just to work. You likely wouldn’t bother and just leave.
Proper web accessibility from proper web development
I can admit that accessibility was not considered for our older clients and there are many sites we have made which are still in use that could benefit from some accessibility fine-tuning. However, every website made by AshWebStudio now ensures that accessibility is considered from the start. Here are some of the things we do for web accessibility:
- Follow WCAG guidelines: Use the WCAG AA guidelines to ensure that the website meets the minimum accessibility standards.
- Use clear and concise language: Use clear and concise language in website content and navigation to improve understandability.
- Provide alternative text descriptions: Use alternative text descriptions for images and videos to ensure that users with visual impairments can understand the content.
- Provide closed captions and transcripts: It is important for videos you include on your website to include a way to view transcripts or watch with closed captioning.
- Use color with care: Avoid using color as the sole means of conveying information, and use color contrasts that are easy to distinguish for users with visual impairments.
- Make sure the website is keyboard-friendly: Ensure that all website features and content can be accessed using only a keyboard or other assistive technologies.
Web accessibility and your website
By ensuring that everyone can access your website and its content, businesses can expand their audience, improve user experience, and demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity. Practical steps, such as following WCAG guidelines, using clear language, and testing for accessibility, can help businesses improve their website’s accessibility and reach a wider audience. As a web designer and developer, I encourage all businesses to prioritize website accessibility to improve their online presence and take advantage of the significant market size represented by people with disabilities. Please contact us to discuss your website’s accessibility.