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How to get a broader reach with an accessible website

Ivy Clark Technical Analyst

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Websites are the voices of organisations. 

This reach is a powerful tool and web accessibility is all about building websites that work regardless of the end-user's choice of browser, operating system, technology or device; irrespective of any impairment or preconception that we may have.

Accessibility is not just for the blind

Although the blind and visually impaired benefit directly from an accessible website, they are not the only reason accessibility is important. When we make our web sites accessible, we are creating an inclusive environment for members of our community regardless of their disabilities.

Disability or impairment are umbrella terms covering activity limitations and participation restrictions and cover four major categories of disability types; visual, hearing, motor and cognitive. Examples of disabilities or impairment include, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, dementia, dyslexia, hearing impairment, physical injuries, and eyesight degeneration due to aging.

Yes, accessibility means broader reach!

Let's begin with some key facts from World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Rates of disability are increasing due to population ageing and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes.
  • 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision.
  • 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss.
  • Between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant difficulties in functioning.

It is clear from these numbers that if your website is not accessible, you have chosen to deny a large community from using your web content. The more inclusive your websites and web applications are, the broader your reach. If your content can be easily read by different browsers and assistive devices, this same content is also easily readable by search engine bots that crawl web pages for the purpose of indexing and ranking them on search engines like Google and Bing.

Legal and policy implications

If doing the right thing and getting broader reach is not enough for you to make a business case, there are also legal and policy implications to consider.  

Legal and government policy implications of inaccessible websites vary in different countries. For example, in Australia, accessibility requirements for websites are mandated under government policy, legislation, and through whole-of-government commitments. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 agencies must ensure that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights to access information and services as others in the community. Furthermore, in 2008, the Australian Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which specifically recognises (under Articles 9 and 21) that access to information, communications and services, including the internet, is a human right. 

Some organizations have faced legal action for not making their websites, intranets and web-based applications accessible. Not complying with accessibility requirements can result in significant legal costs and have negative impact on the organization's reputation. For example, in 2000, an Australian blind man won a court case against the Sydney Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG). This was the first successful case under Disability Discrimination Act 1992 because SOCOG had failed to make their official website, Sydney Olympic Games, adequately accessible to blind users.

Steps to ensure your website is accessible

If you are about to embark on revamping your website:

  • Analyse what you know about your current audience - there is a lot you can learn from site analytics, e.g. site usage, popular or areas with low traffic
  • Develop personas and user stories for your website
  • Audit the existing content to identify the content that meet the needs of your personas, find the ones that are outdated and orphaned or need archival
  • Ensure the interaction design and information architecture of the new site focus on the personas you developed
  • Choose a web content management system (CMS) which supports accessibility
  • Ensure your web development team is aware and will develop the website to meet accessibility requirements

If you already have a website, you can do the following periodically:

  • Learn and increase awareness about writing accessible content for the web
  • Audit the templates and 10 most popular pages on your website
  • The audit will identify if errors exist and require fixing
  • Rinse and repeat - yes, accessibility review is an ongoing process

Guidelines for accessible web sites 

Accessibility is not just about compliance and checklists. However, these checklists will help you remember each point during website development and accessibility testing. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.0 (from http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/) lists four groups of principles along with specific actions under each principle.

1.       Perceivable

2.      Operable

3.      Understandable

4.      Robust

Accessibility Audit

Now that you know what the WCAG2.0 guidelines are and the actions required to achieve them, how do you know if they have been implemented successfully in your website? This is where an accessibility audit comes in.

Accessibility testing serves the purpose of verifying if the WCAG2.0 guidelines are met against a range of criteria, revealing if any violations exist and making recommendations for each violation.  Hence, time must be allowed for addressing the recommendations following the audit. 

Although accessibility testing is usually done during website design and development, prior to website delivery, it is useful to conduct accessibility audits on a regular basis.

Automated accessibility testing

Automated testing is useful for identifying common accessibility problems and provides a great start to validating many pages quickly. You can use a combination of the following software / services to verify your delivery meets the WCAG 2.0 guidelines:

Manual accessibility testing

Manual testing involves looking at the end-result html rendered onto the browser where the tester checks the page structure and reviews the html code to identify if any issues exist, e.g. if the page title is valid.  

Although this approach is more time consuming, manual testing allows finding accessibility problems which cannot be found by software.  For instance, automated testing can identify whether an image has an associated alt text, but only through manual testing is it possible to determine if the alt text provides sufficient description about the image. 

You should include the following aspects of your web pages in your tests:

  • Page titles - Ensure page titles exist and adequately explain what the page is about
  • 'Alt' tags for images - Check that every image which is considered essential content has an 'alt' tag which explains the image
  • Headings - are the headings and sub-headings in your web pages semantic? E.g. H1, H2, H3. Note, large texts in bold do not count as headings.
  • Check the colour contrast of your pages - ensure there is sufficient contrast between the text and background
  • Resize text - can the textual content on your pages be enlarged? 
  • Keyboard access and visual focus - unplug your mouse and see if you can navigate the pages using only your keyboard. Can you tell where your cursor is on the page, if an element or menu item in the page is in focus?
  • Forms, labels and errors - can you easily navigate (with only your keyboard) from one part of the form to another? Are form instructions clear? Are error messages available and do they make sense? You will also need to look at the page markup to determine if form fields have associated labels.
  • Multimedia (video, audio) alternatives - are alternative versions available for audio, video or animations are used in your website? E.g. do captions and transcripts exist?

The W3C Web Accessibility initiative provides more context and instructions for performing a manual accessibility review.

Now you know what accessibility is, why it is important for your users and industry, how beneficial it is to your organisation and how to ensure your website is accessible to meet these expectations.

If you’d like to learn more  about accessibility, you can read our recent case study from the Royal National Institute of Blind People. You can  also download our Accessible, Social, Mobile report here.

We will be presenting at the Perth Web Accessibility Camp on August 1, discussing how you can develop accessible user experience for mobile. If you’d like to talk to us about accessibility, please email us on hello@precedent.com