Accessibility as the User Experiences It—Or Not
Your Goal: Accessibility for All
Accessibility means what it implies—unfettered web use.
Wanna know what it feels like to use a fettered web site? Just go online and try navigating your own website for an hour without the benefit of a mouse or trackpad.
Frustrating, much? Absolutely. But this is what people with impairments encounter on a daily basis when they visit websites lacking accessibility.
Don’t brush aside their dilemma. Impaired users account for some 20 percent of all who surf the Web. Since billions use the Internet, those who do so challenged by a physical or neurologic disadvantage represent a sizable population.
However, accessibility authorities note that no two impaired users are exactly alike. That means no two impaired users possess the exact same needs when it comes to using the Internet and visiting your website.
Since no two impaired users are alike, you might think the solution is to anticipate all possible impairment conditions that users may bring to your website. But that’s likely to prove impossible.
For this reason, we at Valet recommend you instead configure your website to offer accessibility for users with the most often-encountered impairments.
Those accessibility impairments fall into six broad categories:
- Paroxysm susceptibility
Let’s look at these one by one.
And All the Rest
Mobility impairments as they relate to web use refer mainly to an inability to use one’s hands. Lack of mobility can come from musculoskeletal injury or a brain condition or both.
Sources of musculoskeletal-related mobility impairment include birth defects, aftereffects of serious disease, and physical injury.
Typically responsible for brain-related mobility impairment are Parkinson’s Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke, and other conditions that produce tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, and further problems related to motor control.
Cognition means the user suffers from cognitive disabilities. Of various origins, these conditions affect memory, attention span, developmental “maturity,” problem-solving abilities, and logic skills.
Lastly, susceptibility to paroxysms. This is a medically correct way of saying the user may suffer a seizure if he or she spends time looking at a screen containing strobe or flashing effects.
Accessibility in the Trenches
To truly understand the issues of accessibility, try exploring it from the vantage point of those with accessibility issues.
We found eight articles that we believe will help you do exactly that. Listed in no particular order, the lowdown on each continues below.
- THE TOOLS PEOPLE USE. This article describes the equipment impaired users rely on to access your website. The discussion centers around seven tools in particular and explains why you need to design your website for compatibility with each of them.
- SHOW AND TELL. Washington State University created a mock website to illustrate the typical web design problems that inhibit access by people with disabilities. As soon as you arrive at the home page, WSU throws down the gauntlet and challenges you to spot all 18 of the accessibility problems they intentionally embedded there. Happy hunting!
- IN THEIR OWN WORDS. Watch this two-minute video to find out what online life is really like for the differently-abled. The consensus: websites inhospitable to those with disabilities get bypassed in favor of welcoming websites. Pay heed, marketers.
- VISIONARY APPROACHES. Spend a few minutes with this enlightening Gizmodo piece explaining how the blind access the internet and it quickly becomes apparent that text-to-speech software only scratches the surface when it comes to creating site accessibility for the sightless. I found myself particularly caught up in the part about the conceptual difficulties of using left-right reading tools.
- READ IT AND WEEP. The YouTuber who created this minute-long video of her screen reader reeling off the contents of the New York Times home page makes that point that even the biggest and best online properties fall short of the mark when it comes to accessibility.
- READY TO VISIT YOU. Ever wonder how the blind navigate the Internet? This YouTube video introduces you to a blind person in possession of a truly dazzling set of keyboard skills. He exemplifies the ability and eagerness of the disabled to visit and engage with accessible websites.
- COLORING OUTSIDE THE LINES. Smashing Magazine offers some great information about an impairment not always recognized as accessibility related: color blindness. According to the magazine, color blindness affects 4.5 percent of the population, but 8 percent of all men. One of the accessibility issues for the colorblind revolves around their inability to see links highlighted in color. The article suggests you solve this problem by underlining links. It helps too to label your site’s colors in text. Read the article for more colorblind accessibility tips.
- A VERY SOUND WAY OF THINKING. Think it’s no problem for a deaf person to visit a website brimming with visual wonders? Think again. The fact is, without accommodation for hearing impairments, many would-be visitors find themselves prevented from enjoying sound-effects, music clips, podcasts, and video soundtracks. This article gives you a day-in-the-life portrait of a deaf person who attempts to engage with online content.
Plenty of good reading and viewing in each of those articles. However, you can easily find much more just by conducting an online search of your own.
The thing you should take away from all these writings is that the diversity of medical issues affecting millions of users greatly complicates efforts to make websites truly accessible.
We at Valet understand very well the difficulties of creating accessible websites. We know the challenges you face trying to open up your site to the differently-abled.
Which is why we encourage you to reach out to us. We welcome the opportunity to share with you our ideas about website accessibility—along with our technical expertise in configuring your website so that more people can use and enjoy it.
Just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anytime.