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Feature image Building a Web That's Accessible to Everyone

Accessibility advocates dream of a web that works for everyone, regardless of ability. You might assume that everyone shares this dream, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it takes convincing. Whether an organization is a business, nonprofit, educational institution, or government agency, an accessible website is essential for many reasons. We’ve outlined just a few of them so you can see how critical it is to maintain digital accessibility.

What organization wants to limit its audience?

Most organizations want to expand their audience. They stage events, post to social media, and conduct outreach activities. To do all of this, and then to exclude large groups of people is antithetical to the goal of audience expansion. Still, many organizations’ websites do just that by falling low on the accessibility spectrum.

What organization wants lawsuits?

Nearly every organization consults with an attorney at some point. Many organizations even employ teams of attorneys to reduce risk and legal liability. Yet many of these same organizations have websites that fail to respect the rights of users with disabilities. In the process, they leave themselves vulnerable to complaints and legal action.

What organization wants bad press?

Almost every organization works hard to create and maintain a positive image. In fact, the entire PR industry was built to keep businesses in the public’s favor. However, failing to make an accessible website creates ample room for negative press. Some companies might see their public image suffer as a result.

What organization wants to turn away potential customers?

Most businesses try to make life easy for their customers. They study web statistics and nitpick the finest nuances of their e-commerce experience to make it simple and user-friendly. But at the same time, their e-commerce sites are difficult or occasionally impossible for users with disabilities to operate. Where is the easy-to-use mentality in that?

Simple Solutions, Complex Dilemmas

Accessibility guidelines exist to illuminate the path toward more accessible websites. For many types of disabilities, the solutions are simple to understand and, often, relatively easy to implement. However, when companies reach the implementation phase for these solutions, they often encounter real dilemmas. There is a perception that following accessibility guidelines means compromising the user experience for their non-disabled users.

For example, let’s take a website’s color scheme. Users with low vision require a color scheme with high contrast, especially between the text and background. If the contrast is too low, then reading the text will be difficult or impossible. Similarly, users with color blindness need a color scheme that doesn’t rely on certain contrasts because they can’t differentiate those colors. If a company’s web design incorporates the wrong contrasts, these users will struggle.

Customers will send a clear message if a website works for them. Users will only give a website 10–20 seconds to “prove its worth” before they decide to stay, or to leave.1 If a site visitor automatically sees that the color contrast of a site does not work for them, this decision phase is likely much shorter. Why would they stay?

Still, try pitching a color change to executives or communications teams and then brace for impact. “What about our branding?” they’ll scream. “What are you trying to do to our identity?” Selecting website colors is one of those issues where you can expect strong opinions and pushback against any proposed changes. So, how can you resolve this dilemma?

Clear Resolutions

The world of accessibility is ripe for innovation. In the last few years alone, we’ve seen a surge in practical solutions to longstanding accessibility problems. The UserWay widget is one of those innovations, and it provides a solution to heavily debated dilemmas like in our color scheme example above. The widget lets website owners keep their existing color scheme while giving site visitors the option to customize the contrast to match their needs. This, along with ways to enlarge the text, highlight links, boost the font’s legibility and many other accessibility enhancements, means websites can be readable to any user no matter what the company’s design requires.

If you can’t find a reasonable compromise when building a site, that doesn’t mean that disabled users should miss out on your content. It means you must provide them with better ways for your content to adapt to their needs. That’s why sites with the UserWay widget offer the best of both worlds to users and companies alike.

1. Nielsen Norma Group: How Long Do Users Stay on Web Pages?