Accessibility: why it is essential and what you can do for equal access on your website
Most of us take it for granted that things around us just work for us, like buying a train ticket, getting money from an ATM or using a computer. But for 1 billion people, this not the case. According to the WHO, about 15% of the world’s population has a disability. But there are a few things you can do to make your website more accessible and provide equal access for people with disabilities.
Some stats and facts about disabilities
According to the WHO, disability is “an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.” 17% (1.3 million people) of the world’s population are blind or have some visual impairment. 466 million are affected by deafness and hearing loss. About 200 million people have an intellectual disability, and 75 million people are reliant on a wheelchair.
The number of people with disabilities is increasing. Among other reasons, this is because people tend to get older and develop chronic health conditions. According to disabled-world.com, “33% of 20-year-old workers will become disabled before reaching retirement age.” Moreover, in countries with a life expectancy of over 70 years, people will spend about eight years with a disability. This equals 11,5 % of their life.
The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) provides standards to ensure web accessibility. One of their main goals is to make certain that the web is usable for all regardless of their hardware, software, culture, or physical and mental abilities. To reach their goal, the organization offers guidelines and develops protocols.
How to make your website more accessible
Perceivable means that you provide text alternatives for non-text media on your website. Besides, your website needs to be adaptable to the user’s needs, e.g., resizing text. Also, to make your website perceivable, it needs to be distinguishable, for example, by using proper contrast.
Operable means that your website needs to be keyboard accessible for people who use the keyboard to interact with your website. Operability also means that you give the user enough time. Do not put them under pressure to finalize their task. Moreover, do not use flashing videos and similar things because it can cause seizures and other physical reactions. In addition, make your website navigable so that people find their way around.
Understandable means that your website needs to be readable easily. Also, it should be predictable so that people do not have a hard time finding the content they are looking for. Using input assistance for forms or setting up a password also helps to make your site more understandable.
Lastly, your content must be robust. In this context, robust means that it is compatible with different browsers and assistive technologies.
Eric Eggert compared these pillars with being the spirit of the law. They tell you what you should do. On the other hand, there are also success criteria which are like the letter of the law. The criteria are reliable ways to check your website for accessibility.
In general, there are three levels of accessibility: A, AA and AAA. To meet most standard regulations, you need to pass at least AA. You can find more about the success criteria on the w3.org website.
Unfortunately, there is no automated tool to check the accessibility of a website. There is just too much that tools cannot catch just yet. If you want to test the accessibility of your website, you have to do it manually. To change perspectives and understand the needs of users with disabilities more, you can take a look at this video by the W3C on web accessibility perspectives.
The European accessibility act
From an ethical perspective, it is very important to provide an accessible website, but the law will also embody it. By 2025 the European accessibility act will come into force. This act covers various products and services, such as computers and operating systems, ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines, Smartphones, TV, access to audio-visual media, banking services, e-books, and e-commerce. According to europa.eu, businesses, older adults as well as people with disabilities will benefit from this law. Due to the regulation, there will be more accessible products at more competitive prices. Another predicted advantage is more jobs for people with accessibility expertise. Moreover, there will be better accessibility in transport, education, and open labour market.
But, as mentioned, the EU also sees advantages for businesses. Cross-border trading will be easier. Standard rules lead to costs reduction, and there will be more market opportunities for accessible products and services.
Regardless of which point of view you are looking at it, accessibility is an important topic that concerns everyone. By keeping the needs of people with disabilities in mind and expanding the accessibility across the web, we can do our part for making the web a more inclusive and better place.