Why Web Accessibility Matters
I would like to take a moment to thank Aaron for asking me to write for Solo Signal about Web accessibility and usability topics. In this article I would like to focus on accessible web design as it relates to good business practices. My next article will focus on the usability aspects of site design, and how it relates to businesses and individuals alike.
So, what exactly is Web Accessibility?
If you Google search “Web Accessibility” you will receive 217 million results in the search. That is a lot of information to look through to try to find the true meaning of accessible web design. You can pick through the results and find technical sites that relate to the W3C web standards, sites that offer guidance to web developers and site creators and even more results that attempt to make sense of what the true meaning of accessible web design really is.
Let’s take a look at an excerpt of the Wikipedia definition of “Web accessibility“:
Web accessibility refers to the practice of making websites usable by people of all abilities and disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users can have equal access to information and functionality.
In other words, a site has to be correctly designed (usable) and developed (coded) so that all users, irregardless of ability or viewing medium, can have access to the information you are conveying and the functionality of the site. The key words here are information and functionality for all users.
Why Information is Important…
As a business owner that either has, or is looking to create a web site, your main goal is to relay information about your products or services in order to create, maintain and grow your business. You want to provide information about who you are and what you do in order to reach the most people with the least amount of effort, and cost possible. As an individual that is surfing the internet, you want to be able to quickly and easily locate the information that is important to you. Why waste the time thinking you have finally found those instructions on how to get rid of that blue screen of death, only to find that you are on a site that sells caskets?
If you own a traditional business store front, imagine turning away every fifth person that comes to the door to do business with you. There is no particular reason for turning them away, you don’t know them and can’t tell anything about the individual. Or, picture turning off all of your lights and painting your windows black, and then expecting your customers to find exactly what they came to your business to buy. What if you were to cram your whole warehouse of items into a small storefront that didn’t allow room for anyone to shop or move around? These scenarios aren’t going to be a positive experience for your customers. This is the type of experience that disabled users face everyday while online.
A person with a disability doesn’t have to have a severe disability in order to have problems surfing online. It could be an individual that has a vision problem and needs to make their font size larger than the default size. Can this be easily accomplished on your site? What about a person that has a developmental delay? Can they easily understand the information and content on your site, or are they confused by the terminology and extensive content that is overwhelming them? Users of your site that have dexterity issues, such as arthritis, might have a tough time using a mouse or the keyboard extensively to navigate your site. Another consideration is that a lot of internet users still are on dial-up connections. And let’s not forget about the new internet users that have their PDA or mobile device. This is a rapidly growing area that requires accessible web design and careful thought into your sites design.
About your business site
I won’t bore you with the details about how to create an accessible site, with examples of coding valid XHTML and CSS, but the basics come down to being able to still read the content (information) of any site just like it was a book. If all of the pictures, styles, colors and decorations on any site were to be turned off, would the content of the site still make sense? Would you be able to follow along with the stories and articles, or easily find your products that you came to buy? Is the navigation easy to follow and once you are on the page you are looking for, do you still know where you are? There are a few more reasons to have an accessible site.
- Reduced Bandwidth cost due to using web standards to separate content from presentation
- Ease of maintenance and scalability
- Improved Search Engine rankings
- Support for multiple browsers and devices
- Reduced legal liability
There are many other reasons for web accessibility. These are but a few of them. It all boils down to the original definition that we covered in the beginning of this article.
You want to be able to make your information available to the most users possible.
In my next article, I will discuss some of the functionality and usability issues that are encountered and how to ensure your site is easily navigated by all users. If you would like to learn more about accessible web design, feel free to contact me via my sites contact form.
Here are a few good resources also for you to check out:
- Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for your Organization – W3C
- Web Content Accessible Guidelines
- W3C Site Validator – Validate your site here
- Introduction to Accessible Site Design – Sitepoint.com article
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