David Gevorkian

Accessibility has a great impact on user experience (UX). Creating an accessible website ensures that people, regardless of their physical or mental limitations, can obtain the information they need and communicate with your organization like the rest of the world.

With internet technology becoming mainstream, making your fully accessible is more important than ever. Adhering to the web accessibility standards is a legal requirement (as provided in the American Disability Act of 1990). Public and private organizations also consider it a social responsibility.

Building and Construction Accessibility.

Physical access to offices, healthcare facilities, schools, and commercial establishments is a basic civil right. When constructing a building, the owner should ensure that accessibility is incorporated into the planning and design process. For example, people in wheelchairs should be able to conveniently enter a building through the presence of ramps or via elevators. There should be parking areas allocated only for clients or guests with disabilities, doors should be kept open where possible, signs must be placed where customers can easily see them, and specialized devices or equipment that cater to their needs should be made available.

Website Accessibility.

The federal law requires that all public accommodations should be accessible to anyone with or without a disability. With billions of people using the internet to transact with government offices, buying all sorts of stuff online, booking a hotel, flight or restaurant reservations, searching for local businesses, etc, it is also important that websites are made accessible and navigable to them.

When designing a website, a lot of developers and business owners tend to overlook the importance of website accessibility. What they don’t realize is that it compromises their brand, hurts their reputation, and increases their risk of lawsuits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive law aimed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. It requires that all offices, organizations, or institutions (public or private) make their goods or services accessible to those with physical or cognitive limitations.

While web accessibility was not specifically outlined in the ADA, it is considered part of Title III: Public Accommodations. ADA compliance is a hot topic today and many businesses have faced lawsuits because of violations due to non compliance.

What is Section 508?

Also known as 508 Compliance, it is the shorthand for the law requiring government websites to be accessible for people with disabilities. It is an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which basically requires accessibility on all federal electronic and information technology (EIT).

What is WCAG?

Because the ADA does not directly define web accessibility and it’s scope, web designers and developers refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It is a set of international standards that provides specific recommendations on how to make websites accessible.

Differences between WCAG 2.0 and 2.1

WCAG 2.1 is the updated version of the guide which was published early in 2018. It defines the success criteria provided in 2.0 but with a few more additions to address mobile accessibility, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities. It’s important to note that WCAG 2.1 conforms to 2.0 which means that the accessibility requirements outlined in the WCAG 2.1 are the same as that of the earlier version.

What is VPAT?

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) was originally used as a tool to conduct government research on the use of information and communications technology (ICT). Now, it is being utilized to test a website’s accessibility in conformance to the rules and regulations provided in the ADA and Section 5.

When it comes to website design, we often think about aesthetics. Of course, to attract more visitors, we want to make our websites beautiful with beautiful fonts, graphics, buttons, and other visual elements.

But creating a website that is both beautiful and accessible is possible. When designing your website, consider the following steps:

Enable keyboard navigation for web design.

ADA-compliant websites are keyboard-accessible. This means that all their functionalities can be accessed through the keyboard. In addition to traditional keyboards, note that some disabled users make use of specialized computer keyboards. Thus, your website navigation order must be logical and intuitive. This means it should follow a visual flow, such as “right to left” or “top to bottom”. Basically, you want to make it easy for users to navigate links, buttons, and form controls on your website via their keyboards.

Prioritize text clarity.

Written content such as articles page info and calls-to-actions should be easy to read. Vision problems like color blindness, near or farsightedness, cataract, and low vision are among the most common disabilities not just in the U.S. but in the world. Thus, it only makes sense to prioritize text clarity when designing websites.

Don’t rely exclusively on color.

While color is important, they are not the only consideration to make when creating an accessible user interface. The font style and size are important too. Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, and Calibri are among the most recommended font styles.

Order content in HTML for screen readers.

When structuring content, always consider how it can be accessed by people that use screen readers. These are devices that translate digital text into synthesized speech. Note that a screen reader presents content linearly or one item at a time.

Add explanatory link text.

Providing a text description can help users distinguish one link from the others and determine whether to follow the link. When the link redirects users to an image, the text alternative will describe the unique function of the link. If it contains both text and an image, the description can be used to describe both the content and the image.

Use a 40×40 pt. clickable area for touch controls.

People with mobility issues make use of touch controls to navigate the web. When creating the layout of your web interface, provide enough space for CTAs and other clickable areas.

Do not forget to follow the accessibility checklist.

An accessibility checklist ensures that all parts of your website adhere to the WCAG. Everything from the images, colors, text, audio, video, navigation, site structure, forms, and text elements.

Accessible web design does not only lead to better experience among users with disabilities but also among those who do not have disabilities or limitations. Many accessibility requirements improve user experience, particularly in limiting situations.

For example, the use of contrasting colors or easy-to-ready fonts benefits people accessing a website from a small screen (such as a mobile phone) or in a dark room. Text alternative benefits users with limited bandwidth while audio transcription is a great tool for users who are unable to use earphones to access audio content.

Websites that follow the WCAG and ADA-requirements for web accessibility can benefit from creating a page solely for accessibility information. A great example of an accessibility guide is the one from the BBC website. It outlines how users can navigate and make the most from their website if they are blind, can’t see very well, unable to hear, or unable to use the keyboard or mouse to browse. Meanwhile, the accessibility statement is a powerful declaration of their commitment to making their site accessible. It includes information about the company’s accessibility goals and the methods they are using to achieve them.

After making the necessary changes, web designers should test whether they have achieved their accessibility goals.

Accessibility testing can be done in two ways: manual or automated. Accessibility firms like Be Accessible Inc. combine these approaches by using tools and conducting end-user testing involving real people with disabilities to examine the accessibility of a website.

Usability testing, on the other hand, is carried out to determine how useful the website is based on several criteria, such as learnability, efficiency, and user satisfaction. A more practical and effective way for businesses to measure the usability and accessibility of their websites is by outsourcing it to a third-party testing company.

Accessibility, in a nutshell, is usability for all.

It ensures that everyone has equal access to your website, no matter what limitations or disabilities they have.

Accessible websites have all elements from the text to the visuals and audio components available for people with disabilities.

It’s hard to cater to all disabilities, but by following the recommendations provided by the WCAG, Section 508, and relevant policies on accessibility, you can make your website usable and accessible for people with varying disabilities.