What is Web Accessibility?
There are many people who would love to say your website offers accessibility, but can’t.
Accessibility would allow them to marvel at your fabulous content, click all the right buttons, and convert into the action-takers you’re eager for them to become.
Unfortunately, none of this is possible at the moment.
Why? Because the individuals we're talking about are vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, or in some other way differently-abled, and you have not yet configured your website so that persons with such disabilities can access it.
Failure to give your website accessibility is a huge mistake.
However, by making your website accessible you could look forward to:
- Increased audience reach and market share. An accessible website is a smart strategic-marketing move. It helps your website rank higher in search, so people—disabled or otherwise—will be more likely to discover you in that proverbial haystack of rivals. Accessibility also removes impediments that limit or entirely prevent site visitors with disabilities from reading about and engaging with your products or services, meaning you’re likely to sell more of whatever you offer.
- Improved efficiency. The current standard for accessibility coding ensures that your website will operate smoothly. If you use code that adheres to this standard, you should find that your website runs faster and safer. It will be more of a pleasure to visit by all who come.
- Plenty of applause. You’d be surprised at the number of people demanding that businesses and institutions demonstrate social responsibility. Having a website optimally accessible by those with impaired use of eyes, ears, speech, hands, or limbs sends a powerful message to the world that you take social responsibility very seriously. That alone could earn you many new customers.
- Reduced risk of being sued. Federal and state laws to which you are subject give people with disabilities the legal right to take you to court if your website isn’t sufficiently accessible to them. What’s more, the government itself can take you to court on behalf of those harmed by your website’s lack of accessibility.
More about the law in a moment. For now, the thing to keep in mind about accessibility is what it represents: equality.
Accessibility is all about leveling the playing field so that everyone—regardless of physical ability—can tap into, utilize, and benefit from a particular data source, concept, service, or location.
Accessibility is important enough that many business entities and virtually every academic institution and governmental body in the U.S. considers it a foundational piece of their web strategy.
How This All Came About
Congress approved and President George H.W. Bush signed legislation in 1990 that prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the law also made it illegal to interfere with the right of the differently-abled to access public accommodations.
Originally, public accommodations meant things like open sidewalks and commercial places—shops and restaurants, for example.
But then, in 2010, the federal Department of Justice—the executive-branch office that has some responsibility for ADA enforcement (the bulk of that responsibility belongs to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission)—promulgated regulations that effectively added your website to the list of places qualifying as a public accommodation.
Those regulations included a section refered to as the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
These standards—which apply to all commercial and public websites—mainly offer broad guidance regarding actions you need to take in order to guarantee that people with disabilities will enjoy access to the text, images, audio clips, and videos you post online.
More concise guidelines built atop the ADA Standards for Accessible Design are available from the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines were produced in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world. The intent was to provide a single, shared source for accessibility standards.
They’re known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). You can check them out here if you’re interested.
The nice thing about the WCAG is that, if they are updated, it will be the result of a gradual, glacial-paced evolution rather than an explosive, Big Bang, pandemonium-inducing overnight upheaval, existential-threat-to-life-as-we-know-it change.
That should be reassuring to you. The last thing you want is to invest in accessibility only to realize that the money you spent on guideline-compliant code was all for nothing.
Website Accessibility is Your Friend
Bottom line: accessibility—especially accessibility achieved in accordance with the best-practices and standards articulated in the WCAG—is your friend. You should embrace it like a friend because it’s going to help you be more successful (not to mention keep you out of legal hot-water).
Don’t let the dread-inducing terminology of the guidelines scare you. The more you know about them, the less trepidation you’ll feel.
In fact, the more you know about web accessibility in general, the more successful you’ll be.
A good place to start is with the detailed explanation of the benefits of providing an accessible website, as set forth by the WCAG. Go here for their “Overview for Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization.”
Also, be sure to keep reading our blog. In the coming weeks, we at Valet will be sharing some quality resources and articles about this important subject.
Can’t wait? Then feel welcome to contact us and schedule a Valet ADA Compliance Consultation.
Or, if you’ve just got a quick question about website accessibility, please ask us.
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMPORANT: Nothing in this post is intended to be offered or construed as legal advice or counsel. If you’re concerned about your accessibility status or risks under the law, we urge you to consult your lawyer.