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Anyone who frequently visits websites can relate to a bad user experience. The most common and frustrating issues are slow connection speeds, nearly unreadable fonts, and faulty navigation. Now, imagine how people with disabilities deal with these same problems. For them, poor functionality can make it difficult or impossible to use any website. Fortunately, web accessibility principles can help you create a site that accommodates all users equally.
This article offers insights for providing website accessibility to users with disabilities and anyone who visits your site. There are over 1 billion people with disabilities¹, including 53 million in the United States², making them the largest minority group in the world. So, it’s ethically critical to provide a site they can use just like everyone else.
Embracing this principle will help you meet ADA web compliance, which is an invaluable legal safety net. But it’s also a wise business strategy. After all, an accessible website opens your online sales channel to a massive and crucial demographic.
Web Accessibility Defined
Web accessibility means developing online content, design, and functionality for all users, including people with disabilities. And that requires assistive tech features that support various impairments, including those related to hearing, vision, and cognitive abilities (see descriptions below).
Includes total vision loss, lower levels of vision, and color-related conditions.
Covers the full spectrum of ear-related conditions, including total hearing loss.
Anything related to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
Applies to attention-related deficiencies, comprehension disorders, and deduction-based issues.
Relates to motor-control limitations, low-speed muscles, and inoperable hands.
At their best, assistive technology tools simplify content comprehension, navigation, and UX interaction for every user. Implementing these tools may seem daunting and cost-prohibitive on the surface. However, partnering with the right technology provider can help you meet web accessibility standards and stay within your budget. In addition, this will help you start from scratch and remediate your existing accessibility violations—a more efficient approach than reverse-engineering your current back-end code and front-end UX.
Web Compliance and Accessibility Standards
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 2008. The WCAG’s purpose is to establish universal rules that ensure websites, digital devices, and content are accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines apply to textual, image-based, and sound-based elements, along with programming language (code) that establishes website functionality and visual UX elements.
WCAG 2.0 (established in 2008) and 2.1 (established in 2018) are the two iterations of WCAG that currently apply. All 2.0 mandates are in 2.1, and 2.1 also offers additional success standards. It’s also important to note that WCAG 2.1-compliant content also meets WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
The WCAG is the legal foundation for accessibility worldwide. For example, Title III of the ADA and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) adhere to WCAG level AA as a baseline requirement. Additionally, EN 301 549 (EU Web Accessibility Directive) doesn’t call out adherence to the WCAG but covers its required guidelines.
Here are the Three WCAG Success and Conformance Levels:
- Level A: The baseline level of accessibility compliance. Any site that doesn’t achieve Level A is considered 100% inaccessible.
- Level AA: Requires removing commonplace obstacles for those with various disabilities. AA is the top compliance tier needed to eliminate the most significant accessibility hurdles.
- Level AAA: This is WCAG’s accessibility pinnacle, which is more challenging to reach for most company websites. It’s the gold standard for accessibility but not necessarily required.
The Four Principles of Accessibility
Your site information must be perceivable to at least one of your end users’ senses. Moreover, all people must be able to discern, comprehend and be aware of your website content. And remember, the word “perceive” isn’t exclusive to using the eyes to see. It also concerns people with total blindness and lower vision who rely on screen reader software that switches text into speech or braille characters.
All end users must be able to operate your website interface without disruptions. This principle applies to every functionality element, including UX navigation, link selection, and operating video and audio components. It’s best to remove or avoid any content obstructing the user experience for people with disabilities.
All end users must understand your website’s textual and image-based content. Your technology must provide intelligible and consistent site composition and design and usability patterns that end users commonly expect.
The content on your site should be easily interpreted and consumable by all visitors, including those who use assistive technology like screen readers. Integrate HTML that assistive technologies can use with no visual guidelines.
6 Examples of Web Accessibility for ADA Compliance
The examples of web accessibility below will put you on the right path for accommodating all users, especially those with disabilities. Use it as your website accessibility checklist when you develop your new site.
1. Provide Alt Text for Website Imagery
Screen readers utilize alt text to provide audible image descriptions for users with eye-related impairments. Additionally, this feature helps site visitors who may choose to turn images off because they have slow connection speeds. Well-written alt text can also boost your SEO performance. All of this said, be sure to write alt text that’s concise and straightforward.
2. Integrate Keyboard Capability
Mouse navigation is challenging for people who lack mobility, have impaired motor skills, or face short-term issues like a broken wrist. That’s where keyboard navigation can help. It enables site visitors to scan content and jump to what they want to read.
3. Offer Audio Transcripts
This assistive tool helps people with ear-related disabilities and applies to audio files, sound excerpts, podcasts, videos, etc. Audio transcripts allow deaf and hard-of-hearing people to absorb relevant information.
4. Web Accessibility Testing
There’s no better audience for testing web accessibility than people with disabilities. That said, it’s best to use a test group representing the spectrum of disabilities, from vision to hearing and cognitive and motor skill impairments.
5. Conduct Accessibility Scans
Most websites undergo frequent content changes requiring consistent accessibility and compliance monitoring. Periodic accessibility scans will catch any possible violations, providing invaluable peace for your company from the top down.
6. Integrate Automated Audits
Numerous AI widgets on the market find compliance and accessibility issues needing remediation. You can rely on an outside vendor for these audits or conduct them independently.
The Legal Implications of Inaccessibility
Although the ADA doesn’t explicitly call out website requirements, federal courts and agencies have established a solid legal precedent. For example, there were 3,500 cases filed in 2020 against company websites for inaccessibility, including 74% against companies with E-commerce storefronts.³ And it’s not just big business that’s vulnerable to this punitive legal action. Companies of all sizes could be at risk for lawsuits, and smaller firms with fewer resources stand to feel the most significant impact.
Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and potential legal costs far outway the cost of integrating assistive technology tools. Start by gaining an intimate understanding of the WCAG to meet web accessibility guidelines. These insights will provide a solid foundation for developing a website everyone can use equitably. From a legal standpoint, the risk of being sued is substantial, but that isn’t the only good reason to comply with ADA website accessibility. A more accessible website means your company can accommodate everyone, regardless of their ability.
An Accessible Website is a Wise Business Strategy
Supporting a web accessibility initiative could be one of the most intelligent business decisions you’ll ever make. An ADA-compliant website can substantially boost your sales revenue, particularly if you have an E-commerce storefront. Companies that commit to digital accessibility will benefit the most from the upward sales trends below.
- E-commerce sales in the U.S. reached roughly $5.2 trillion in 20218⁴
- They’re projected to reach $8.1 trillion by 2026⁴
- 93% of users want E-commerce sites that are superior to physical stores⁵
- 52% will pay more to locate what they want with a few clicks of a mouse⁵
Making your site more accessible is also a good budgeting decision. Unlike traditional media such as print, websites enable real-time changes. On the other hand, reprinting a book for a font size change is time-consuming and exceptionally costly. By contrast, your dev team can quickly implement daily website changes to accommodate a wide range of user needs. For instance, it’s easy to include captions for the hearing impaired (permanently or situationally) and remove them for people who aren’t.
As this article points out, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. That said, why would you exclude this massive target audience? It’s time to provide them with an equitable web environment, which will improve your site’s SEO, attract more traffic, and bring in and retain more customers.
Meeting Web Accessibility Standards Helps Everyone
Here’s something you may not know that becomes pretty obvious when it’s pointed out. Most assistive technology tools designed for people with disabilities often create a better user experience for everyone. For instance, the contrast tool on your phone helps people with vision-related disorders read and comprehend digital content more clearly. But this tool also helps everyone else when they need it most. A prime example is when you’re outside on a sunny day, barely able to see the content on your mobile phone.
Assistive technology also applies to situational disabilities like a broken arm that prevents you from using your touchscreen. That’s where voice command technology allows you to interact verbally with your device until your arm heals. So, a tool initially designed for people with missing or inoperable limbs is equally important when you have a temporary condition.
Or consider cataract surgery, which can hinder eyesight for up to 10 weeks. In this case, you can use a screen reader designed for people with vision disabilities, which speaks aloud all content on a given webpage. These assistive technology scenarios should be excellent news for any website owner that invests in web accessibility.
UserWay’s Main Purpose is Web Accessibility
UserWay was founded on the principle that the web should be accessible and usable for everyone, including people with disabilities. Learn about an AI solution that helps you reach ADA website accessibility and protects your business legally. Get on the right path to ADA & WCAG 2.1 AA compliance with UserWay’s comprehensive solution.
Answers to Common FAQs
Why is Web Accessibility Important?
Firstly, an accessible website dramatically simplifies the user experience for people with disabilities. Therefore, we should all commit to being good corporate citizens, and helping this user base is a step in the right direction. Secondly, web accessibility is the law according to the ADA and the WCAG. So, it’s best to comply with their respective guidelines to avoid costly and unnecessary legal battles for your company. And lastly, making your site accessible to everyone is a golden opportunity to enhance your online sales performance.
Is it Expensive to Develop an Accessible Website?
It depends on your approach. The in-house, manual method is typically cost and time prohibitive and won’t thoroughly address all issues that need fixing. Using an outside vendor with AI and manual capabilities is your best bet to achieve accessibility and meet ADA compliance guidelines.
Does Accessible Web Design Hurt the Look and Feel of a Site?
Quite the opposite is true. Following accessibility standards requires more white space and a cleaner approach to UX design. By removing unnecessary clutter, flashing animation, and other distracting elements, you provide a superior user experience for all site visitors, including those with disabilities.