5-Minute Guide to Web Accessibility
Learn what it is, why it’s important, and how you can achieve compliance.
What is web accessibility?
When a website is accessible, it can be used by someone with a disability:
- someone who is blind that uses software that reads websites out loud
- someone who is hard of hearing who turns on captions when they watch videos
- someone with a hand tremor who uses voice command software instead of a keyboard and mouse.
When coded correctly, websites work for all of these people. But oftentimes, websites are not coded with accessibility best practices in mind. It’s often an honest oversight due to lack of training. Sometimes it’s a goal pushed to “later.” Either way, people with disabilities are running into barriers when they use the web.
These barriers prevent them from banking, shopping, reading the news, communicating with friends and family, and more.
Does the ADA require me to have an accessible website?
Yes… and no. The ADA requires that “places of public accommodations” be accessible to people with disabilities. It was written before online banking, shopping, and entertainment existed. There have been attempts to bring the text of the ADA up to date with modern technology. Those are on hold. We don’t have clear regulations.
We do have lawsuits and settlements.
Those lawsuits and settlements generally agree that conforming to WCAG 2.1 AA is the definition of accessible. Depending on the settlement, the defendant must bring their web properties into compliance within 2-5 years.
With 20 years in accessibility, we’ve been at too many settlement tables to count. We’ve written a short guide with our advice on how to craft a win-win settlement.
Why does my business need to implement an accessiblity checklist?
Being accessible is the best defense against being sued for having an inaccessible website. Is it bulletproof? No. But if you get a demand letter, you will have the documentation to prove your website or mobile app’s compliance.
Being accessible increases the number of people you reach. Estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability that affects their daily life. Technology is a big part of daily life.
Being accessible makes it easier to sell your goods and services. If you sell technology B2B or B2G, having an accessibility conformance report will rank your product higher in the minds of your buyers, especially in highly regulated industries or the government.
Being accessible is the right thing to do. Assistive technology helps people with disabilities use the web. All we need to do as creators is ensure that we meet WCAG standards and we can include them in everything great about modern life.
Where else will I see benefits from an accessibility checklist?
Accessibility best practices help more people than you may realize. How often do you watch videos on your phone without the sound? Do you ever pinch the screen to zoom in on an image on your iPad? Have you had carpal tunnel syndrome and needed to cut back on typing?
Accessibility and good user experience go hand-in-hand. When you optimize the experience to include as many people as possible, you will implement improvements that benefit everyone.
Can you explain accessibility principles in plain English?
We sure can! The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have four principles:
Your content is perceivable. Everything can be perceived in more than one way. If someone cannot see, written content can be read by a screen reader. If someone cannot hear, audio content has captions.
Your content is operable. Everything can be operated in more than one way. If someone cannot use a mouse or touchpad, they can navigate by keyboard or by voice command software. If someone moves or reads slowly, they can request additional time to complete a task.
Your content is understandable. Everything can be understood. If someone clicks on a navigation menu, it behaves like a navigation menu. If a button says, “Read More” it does what you expect it to do. If an error is made on a form, an error message points out the location of the error and suggests how to fix it.
Your content is robust. Everything can roll up to the newest and shiniest hardware and not break.
How do people with disabilities use the web?
Are you glad we asked this question for you? It’s okay if you don’t have any idea how a blind person would use an iPhone. We have an entire series of articles dedicated to demystifying the world of assistive technology.
Assistive technology bridges the gap between a person’s abilities and the content they want to access. For a blind person to use an iPhone, they enable a screen reader in iOS called VoiceOver. With VoiceOver on, a layer of audio feedback is added to help the person navigate between and within apps. VoiceOver also reads the content on the screen.
How do I test my website for accessibility?
Free tools are a wonderful place to start! There are several free tools available that can give you a quick overview of your site’s compliance. Try webaccessibility.com to test up to six pages on your website for free.
Of course, you get what you pay for. But if you need to convince the person in charge of the budget that you have an accessibility problem, you can do that with the results of a free testing tool.
Next, you’ll want to contact an accessibility expert to do an audit. During the audit process, there will be automated and manual testing, as well as functional testing by people with disabilities.
After the audit, you’ll receive a report with your overall level of compliance and a list of accessibility issues that need remediation. Depending on your relationship with your vendor, they can provide training, help desk support, or even code side-by-side with your developers.
Chat with a Web Accessibility Specialist
We’d love the opportunity to answer your questions, provide additional resources, or run a free compliance check on your site. Please complete this form and we’ll be in touch!
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