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It is so important that every aspect of the web is accessible to all, and if – like me – you work in digital, then it is our responsibility that we make that happen.
Let’s begin to understand the issue that many users are facing. When it comes to the web, there are many different types of impairment that can affect a user’s interaction with different parts of a website. These tend to fall into three different categories: permanent, temporary and situational.
Permanent impairments are those that the user will always live with. Some examples of these could be visual impairments (such as blindness) or loss of a limb. This group of users tend to use assistive technology like screen readers to navigate the web.
The second category is temporary. Many more users of the web fall into this category but they are a lot less thought about regarding web accessibility, than those that fall under the permanent category. Examples of this could include users that have sprained their wrist, or are maybe experiencing loss of hearing due to an ear infection. These users don’t tend to use or purchase assistive technology like those in the previous group, so a clear page layout and subtitles within any video content tend to be very helpful for this type of user.
The final group of impaired users are those with a situational impairment. We will probably all experience this from time to time, as they could include anything from being in a very loud environment and unable to hear any sound coming out of your phone, to losing or forgetting your glasses. Admittedly, it is difficult to cater for each of these types of impairment, but there definitely are things we can do to help such as ensuring text and interactive elements such as buttons are large and clear, with enough colour contrast to conform to the guidelines – WCAG 2.0.
If you have never come across WCAG 2.0 before, I’ll briefly explain it to you here. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and they are an industry-wide, agreed upon, set of standards to meet if you want your website to be accessible. Over time (alongside the web) these have developed and evolved, so we are now on edition 2.0. Interestingly, here in the UK, there are no regulations in place to ensure private sector websites adhere to these guidelines. Although public sector sites (such as gov.uk) must abide by this set of standards, to ensure that everybody has access to complete important tasks, such as renewing your passport or paying your taxes with HMRC.
It is however very important to note that it is a totally different situation in America. By law in the US, both public and private sector websites must follow the WCAG 2.0 standards. This is due to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This has led to some rather interesting lawsuits, like when a blind gentleman sued Domino’s, because he couldn’t buy a pizza on their (at the time) inaccessible website. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court and the decision was given against Domino’s, which was a huge win for both the man himself, as well as for accessibility advocates across the country.
So, now that we know who benefits from an accessible website and why making your site accessible is so important, we now need to determine who is responsible for making your site accessible.
As a developer, I feel like it is first and foremost my responsibility to make sure that any code I am pushing live is adhering to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and that all users can access every part of the site. There are many ways I can do this, but there are also plenty of tools out there to help me along the way. These include some fantastic Chrome plugins such as WAVE which assesses a particular page on my site and points out the places I am going wrong against the WCAG. Lighthouse is also a fabulous plugin, as it can analyse a page and give you an accessibility score to work on, as well as like the previous one, pulling out the elements that can be improved upon. I also highly recommend adding a set of accessibility tests to your testing suite, to make sure that once you have met a high level of accessibility on your site, this level is always maintained and there is no regression. jest-axe can be a great module for this.
Up next, I think that any design and user experience teams are also responsible for ensuring a website is usable for all. Those leading the design and layout of a site can easily filter out some typical accessibility failures, such as a low colour contrast between some text and its background, or a button on mobile that has too small an interactive zone. This can easily be achieved with a design system with accessibility in mind from the outset and at every step of the design process. It’s also worth noting that design tools like Figma are useful at pointing out where you are going wrong, as they have inbuilt features (such as their colour contrast checker) to point you in the right direction.
Another team that has influence over the accessibility of the content that may be going out to your users would be the social media/marketing teams. It is highly advisable that any imagery on site does not have text embedded within them. This is because screen readers are not able to pick up on this text and may miss a large amount of context for the page. It is also vital that video content that contains spoken word always has subtitles. While speaking about videos, it is important that any flashing images do not flash more than three times per second. If not, it may cause seizures for those with epilepsy.
Finally, the last (and probably the most influential) team that affect the accessibility of a site would be management. This could prove difficult, but there are some great selling points to improving a site’s accessibility. It is estimated that 15-20% of users of the web have some sort of disability. In the UK alone, that is around 11 million people (according to wearepurple.org). So by fixing your site’s accessibility issues you could be opening your site up to 20% more users. In monetary terms for a retail website, the spending power is estimated at around £16million. So as well as fixing these issues for moral reasons (to make sure the web is fully accessible for all), there is also monetary value in doing so as well.
All in all, it is important that everybody is aware of the difficulties that many users of the web face. As long as there is at least one accessibility advocate in each team, then it can be at the forefront of everyone’s minds at every stage of creating and maintaining a website.
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It is so important that every aspect of the web is accessible to all, and if – like me – you work in digital, then it is our responsibility that we make that happen. Here’s how!
Find out everything you need to know in our new uptime monitoring whitepaper 2021