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Imagine having to work without being able to access the internet, or struggling with serious difficulties in doing so.
Imagine needing to make a bank transfer but not being able to access the bank’s app.
Imagine wanting to book a table at a restaurant, only to find you can’t view the phone number.
Imagine needing to schedule an urgent appointment but not understanding what’s written.
Perhaps for you, it’s unthinkable, but many people live under these conditions every day.
Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that has been increasingly important for professionals in recent years: accessibility.
Let me start by saying that accessibility is a vast topic that can’t be fully covered in a single article. Today, we’ll focus on some key aspects:
- Why is an accessible website essential?
- What makes a website accessible?
- Common misconceptions about accessibility.
This article promises to be full of valuable information, and I’ll also provide additional links and resources for you to explore. But before we dive in, let’s first define what web accessibility is.
Web Accessibility Explained
For a person with disabilities, web accessibility means the ability to access the content of a website or app without encountering difficulties or barriers that limit their experience.
It’s essential to remember that not all users are the same, and each disability has specific and unique needs. You can’t create a one-size-fits-all accessibility solution; instead, you must address each case to create a product that can be used by everyone.
Why Make a Website Accessible?
Understanding why it’s crucial to make websites accessible might not be as straightforward as it seems, even though accessibility has been a topic of discussion for over 20 years (the first accessibility guidelines were established in 1999). It appears that progress is slow.
However, accessibility is more important than ever today, and you can find it in many aspects of our lives, from parking spaces and elevators to public transportation and dining establishments. In many of these areas, efforts are made to provide mechanisms or solutions for people with disabilities, and the virtual world should be no different.
So, let’s explore the “why” of web accessibility. We can identify three primary reasons:
1. Legal Requirements
The first reason concerns the majority of businesses. There are laws that must be followed, and there’s no escaping them. At least in Italy, the legal obligations regarding accessibility aren’t overly stringent. The obligation applies to two main categories:
- Public administration: They are required to make their services accessible since they provide a public service.
- Private companies: However, this obligation only applies to certain large companies with a substantial three-year average turnover, which excludes most small and medium-sized enterprises.
European Accessibility Act attempts to provide guidelines to improve accessibility in various contexts across all member states, including Italy. However, some exceptions still exist, as microenterprises and SMEs can be exempted if the economic effort required is deemed excessive.
Things are changing, but it will take some time.
2. Company Reputation
Many companies, whether small businesses or large multinational corporations, have recognized the importance of aligning themselves with contemporary issues like climate change, civil rights, mental health, and accessibility. They aim to be seen as supportive of these causes. Accessibility is essential for enhancing a company’s reputation, and here’s why:
Approximately 15% of the world’s population has a disability, which amounts to around 80 million people. This number is expected to rise due to the aging of the population. With these statistics in mind, it’s clear that a significant percentage of potential website users may have a disability. If a website doesn’t meet certain accessibility standards, it won’t be used by these individuals.
This can lead to significant economic losses and a negative impact on the company’s reputation. However, things can change. A company that prioritizes accessibility and creates digital products for a broader range of people will be seen as an inclusive entity. This not only appeals to those who benefit from the inclusivity but also to a growing audience interested in these issues.
In practice, enhancing accessibility can increase website traffic and revenue.
3. Ethical Reasons
Making the web accessible to all is a challenging task, primarily because it’s difficult to convey its importance to those who don’t experience these difficulties firsthand. The internet is intangible, at least at first glance, but it’s an essential part of our lives. We have an interdependent relationship with the web: we use it for our needs, and it, in turn, is obligated to assist us. Completing this connection is essential.
This is a real connection. It’s not right that only a select few can benefit from it because every person should be treated on an equal human level.
What Makes a Website Accessible?
In this section, we’ll explore some essential characteristics of creating an accessible website. But first, let’s understand what makes a website accessible.
There are four pillars of digital accessibility, as described in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international community responsible for defining open web standards to promote accessibility. These pillars are:
- Perceivable: Users must be able to read the content using their senses.
- Operable: The content must be well-structured and meaningful.
- Understandable: The content must be clear and memorable.
- Robust: The content must be readable by assistive technologies.
When creating digital content, whether it’s copy or a graphical interface, it must adhere to these fundamental accessibility principles. You can find detailed information on these guidelines within the WCAG. However, I’d like to share what, in my opinion, are some essential characteristics for a website and its accessibility:
Compatibility with Assistive Technologies: Many people with disabilities rely on assistive technologies to navigate the web. Ensuring your website is compatible with these technologies is crucial.
Hierarchy and Organization: Whether you’re a designer or a developer, you’re well aware of how crucial the organization and hierarchy of information are. An improperly structured and confusing website won’t help users with conditions like ADHD.
Readable Fonts: Font choice is essential in digital product creation. Some fonts may be entirely inadequate and inaccessible to certain individuals.
Contrasts Matter: Designers, please listen. I understand the desire to create a “wow” effect with your interface, but it’s not worth compromising accessibility. Contrast is vital and can significantly impact the accessibility of your website. If users can’t understand your content, they will leave, and all your efforts will be in vain.
Descriptions for Non-Text Content: Developers, this one is for you. It’s your responsibility to add textual descriptions to elements that require them, such as images, videos, and photos. These alternative texts make the web more accessible, and users relying on screen readers will appreciate your effort.
Common Misconceptions about Accessibility and Useful Links
To conclude this article, I would like to share with you some common misconceptions about accessibility, as promised, and provide you with some links that I find useful for enhancing your skills in this field.
Myth 1: Accessibility Is a Technical Issue
This myth often gets associated with developers and their coding practices. The belief is that by solving “technical issues,” we can achieve a web that includes everyone. This is a misconception.
I don’t mean to say that the development team doesn’t have its responsibilities. However, what we often overlook is that creating a digital product involves various components, with the main ones being development, design, and content.
All these parts have duties when it comes to a website’s accessibility. Let me provide a practical example:
We know that for images, the best practice is to have an “alt text” property with a description explaining the displayed image. Writing the description text is not the development team’s task but falls under the responsibility of content creators.
So, developers, you have your roles, but the responsibility doesn’t solely rest on your shoulders.
Myth 2: Accessible Websites Are Ugly and Boring
I can assure you that this myth is the least credible but also the most persistent one. Even today, many people believe it.
To create an accessible website, as we’ve discussed, you need to follow some practical guidelines that don’t compromise the design of your digital product. In fact, if these rules are applied effectively, they can lead to the creation of an engaging and accessible interface.
Myth 3: Accessibility Is Difficult
I admit that the first time I discovered the WCAG guidelines, I was intimidated. I thought they were impossible to understand and exclusive to a select few experts. That’s not the case.
However, this feeling of difficulty is something that happens to anyone when they are learning something new. If you encounter a topic for the first time and don’t know much about it, you might find it challenging. But after a year of studying, your relationship with it will have transformed.
Originally published in the Italian version of Codemotion Magazine by Sherpa Community