Understanding Web Accessibility & Why It Is Important
Web accessibility is the need of the hour. I realized something a few weeks back when I went to a nearby ATM for cash withdrawal. I noticed that the machine had specific buttons embossed with dots written in Braille that could be read by a visually challenged person. This feature has been made compulsory by the central bank so that all the visually impaired people can use the facility of ATM without any hassle. It is one example how our new world has finally accepted that people with disabilities should be able to do everything that those without disabilities can. And this is what web accessibility is all about.
Defining Web Accessibility
To put it simply, web accessibility is the designing of the Website so that people – particularly people with disabilities – can use it comfortably. To elaborate further, Web accessibility defines that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. It also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging.
Web Accessibility challenges all disabilities, impairments and barriers that affect the access and contribution to the web. This includes all visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and all other neurological disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to use any website.
However, in a broader perspective, web accessibility benefits people in general, i.e., with or without disabilities. For instance, a key principle of Web accessibility is designing of the Web sites and software with adaptable features to meet certain user needs, preferences, and situations. This includes scenarios like slow Internet connections or users with temporary disabilities like a broken arm. In short, Web accessibility is the ease of access to the Internet for each and every user.
Why Web Accessibility is Important
It is estimated that around 1 billion people in the world suffer from some form of disability. This makes around 15% of the world’s population. And 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. In this new world, people with disabilities are finally being treated with extra care. Of course, the Internet is now an important resource in many aspects of life; like education, employment, commerce and health care. So it has become essential that the web is accessible to all and provides equal opportunities to people with disabilities.
Being an owner of an Internet marketing agency and running it for years, I have realized that web accessibility is no longer an option, it’s a must have! Most eCommerce web owners, developers, and entrepreneurs tend to overlook this necessity. However, you must note that web accessibility is now required by laws and policies in some cases. WAI Web Accessibility Policy Resources links to resources for addressing legal and policy factors within organizations, including a list of relevant laws and policies around the world.
The Benefits of Web Accessibility
Most developers see accessibility as a burden and a liability, whereas it’s actually quite the reverse. Web accessibility has many advantages for your business, provided if you understand it properly. I am listing some of the most important and significant benefits that come along with an accessible website.
1. Accessibility Enhances Responsiveness
Accessibility enables users to navigate your site the way they want or need to; rather than forcing them to engage in a way that you favor. There are many people who would not be classed as disabled but they take advantage of accessible features. For example, a lot of people dislike track pads on laptops and prefer to navigate web pages with the keyboard.
2. People with Disabilities are a Significant Community
It is 15% of the world’s population, and 19% of American people, so you can’t ignore them. The Internet has given a voice to people who previously may not have had much opportunity to speak their minds in public. The voice of this community makes a difference today. If there is a perception that a business or other organization doesn’t support the disabled, then the PR consequences can be disastrous.
3. Being Accessible Wins Loyalty and Trust
Accessibility brings comfort and ease of access to people with disabilities who, in fact, are more likely to engage in online shopping activity than the average citizen. Shopping in the real world also suffers from accessibility issues. The Internet provides a way for everybody to get equal treatment and service without any physical and social barriers. Providing these means enhances your reputation and becomes a source of brand loyalty.
Web Accessibility is not difficult to include
In my experience, most developers run from accessibility because they think it’s too difficult. To make website accessible just requires a semantic markup, simple planning and basic understanding of accessibility. Website owners can also avail custom development services or buy tools to enhance accessibility.
If you want to make your website accessible and have little knowledge, I would recommend the following three tools that will help you enhance the accessibility of your website.
Thanks to Inclusive Design Research Centre, Accessibility Checker is an open source accessibility evaluation tool that comes in English, German and Italian formats. Its supported formats include CSS, HTML and XHTML. It is an online checker and hosted service that automatically checks single web pages, as well as password protected or restricted pages. Once these are checked, reports are generated with the evaluation results in HTML, PDF, XML and EARL report formats.
MAGENTA is a perfect web-based accessibility tool developed by the Human Interface in Information Systems (HIIS) Laboratory, within the Human Computer Interaction Group. In addition to the WCAG 1.0 guidelines, it evaluates the accessibility of web sites according to their conformance to guidelines for the visually impaired and guidelines included in the Stanca Act.
COMPLYFirst Professional is an excellent program for web accessibility, offered by Odellus Corporation. It works specifically as a desktop application and is not server based. It provides Automated and Manual DOM interface web accessibility testing. And it provides reports to management and QA analysts, as well as remediation code samples to developers. In addition, the company provides training classes as well as evaluation of your site’s current web accessibility.
As I mentioned earlier “web accessibility is the need of the hour”. It is not just about making your website morally upright, it’s about the adaptation of new business features that are a must have in the competitive eCommerce market. So if you not have thought of web accessibility earlier, start thinking of it now.
What has your experience of web accessibility been on either side of the equation? This is a really important subject, so if you take the time to leave one comment this month, please share here. Any number of people might benefit from your words, so thanks in advance.
Featured image: Copyright: ‘https://www.123rf.com/profile_niroworld‘ / 123RF Stock Photo
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