Web accessibility is the concept of designing and building websites so that they are comfortably usable and accessible to the maximum number of people, regardless of their abilities or personal capacity - and also independently of the way in which they access the web, or the devices they use.

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. - Tim Berners-Lee

Lots of people access the internet in different ways - most modern browsers will let you increase or decrease the font size of a website for easy reading, some people will use larger screens, pointing devices that are easier to manoeuvre than a mouse, screen readers for the blind, and many more. The intention of web accessible design is to provide a quality experience to all of these people, however they may be accessing the content of your site.

One of the most widely accepted standards for web accessibility is the WCAG 2.0 from the W3C, you can read the full text here, if you're technically inclined.

The main aims of these standards are as follows:

  • Perceivable
    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images and video. This allows special programs to transform it into larger text, braille, speech, or other formats where needed.
    • Provide alternatives for time-based media. This means that if you have content such as video or audio, you provide an alternative such as text, that the user can read in their own time.
    • Create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure. This is related to responsive design.
    • Make it easier for users to see and hear content - make sure text and navigation elements have enough visual contrast, and that there are visual and technical cues to let you know which elements can be interacted with.
  • Operable
    • Make it possible to navigate and interact with all the features of the site using only a keyboard.
    • Make sure users have enough time to read and use content - avoid or provide alternatives to videos or animations that only play once.
    • Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
    • Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are. From a search feature to an easily-understandable menu, clear and concise titles, breadcrumb navigation.
  • Understandable
    • Make sure that any text copy on your site is easily legible and understandable.
    • Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways - make navigation intuitive.
    • Help users to avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust
    • Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

Web accessibility is absolutely necessary if you want your site to provide a good experience for disabled people - but I would suggest it is essential for all websites. The principles of an accessible website provide you with a solid foundation for an easy-to-use site that provides a good experience for everyone. The concepts and features that you need to include to have an accessible web design often cross over with the most important factors for usability, SEO, and conversion rate optimisation - things that should interest every website owner.

If you're not sure if you're website is accessible, and you'd like to review it - or if you would like to design and develop an accessible website, get in touch with Jack Webster.

If you're still not convinced, check out this video below from accessibility expert David Berman, on why web accessibility is important.

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