Ideally, the Internet would be available to everyone. That’s the foundation of web accessibility after all: the idea that everyone should have the ability to access and use the Internet, especially as it becomes more essential and expected in our everyday lives.
Web developers (those that architect, write and test code) play a large part in ensuring web accessibility. However, in an industry that has only recently begun to consider the importance of this issue, developing websites and applications for broad accessibility can be an intimidating amount of work if those sites and apps were either not designed with visitors with disabilities in mind, content wasn’t planned properly, and / or management didn’t see it as a priority.
According to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web, and that they can contribute to the web.” Today’s websites and applications should be designed with all users in mind as many of the users that rely on good accessibility are those with:
- Disabilities (including mental, visual, auditory and both temporary and permanent mobility. For example, someone with a broken arm would be considered a disabled user.)
- Outdated technology
- Limited literacy / language barriers
- Fat fingers!
Oh yeah! Imagining that your visitors all have huge fingers should immediately add space to your interface, and increase the size of your link / touch targets. But it’s not all that easy; the web is evolving in ways that support accessibility but make development and testing more challenging.
Most new browsers do support HTML5, but not completely.
Device capabilities – Devices are more powerful with more memory and better screen resolution each year, but not all devices are the same or support assistive technologies. Things like screen glare and aspect ratios contribute to the chaos.
Situations – Connected users can access features and content while hiking in the deep woods, standing in the subway or sitting on their couch surfing from their TV browser with their tablet in the other hand.
Design and development experience – Not all teams are user experience veterans with accessibility top of mind. Those touch interface targets better be more than 50 pixels wide with enough space around them for even my fat fingers!
We Can Do This!
Fortunately, a handful of solutions implemented across your application or website can improve accessibility immensely. Well-coded markup (navigation, links, tables, forms, etc.), ease of use, and the mindset that text-first design and development are required – absolutely required – would take care of a majority of accessibility issues!
The W3C states repeatedly that web accessibility can be viewed and defined in different ways. One way is to test whether a web page conforms 100% to a set of requirements such as those defined by WCAG 2.0 or by Section 508. Alternately, you can test with real humans using assistive technologies (e.g.: screen readers) to adhere to the US federal procurement policy known as Section 508 defining accessibility as the extent to which “a technology […] can be used as effectively by people with disabilities as by those without it”.
Accessibility Benefits Everyone
Given the effort, forethought and expense associated with creating or even overhauling websites, the thought of adding more requirements, QA and time to each project is not attractive. However, the benefits are convincing:
- Not getting sued because of poor accessibility = good
- More ways to access content faster = good
- Increased traffic and visibility due to improved accessibility = good
- Improved sales/leads and customer support = good
- Being a good web citizen = priceless!