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Web Accessibility is a Problem Only If You Allow It to Be One

Let’s say you have full use of your body and all its senses. If so, you’re unlikely to give much thought to whether your website meets minimum standards of accessibility.

Being able-bodied makes it easy to assume that everyone who comes to your site just happily clicks away. Simply by plopping into a chair or sofa and effortlessly consuming the awaiting cavalcade of sights, sounds, and tactile feedback.

But in real life, that isn’t necessarily so. Therefore, as the owner of a website, you can’t in this day and age be cavalier about accessibility. This also includes the content creators and the like.

Why You Can’t Ignore Accessibility

For one, the law won’t let you.

For another, the realities of doing business online today demand you make your site accessible for everyone. From those who have impaired vision or hearing to those who have little or no use of hands or arms. Or who have any number of physiological or neurological disorders limiting their ability to engage with your web pages.

Benefits of Becoming Accessible

You may be surprised to learn that there is a potentially sizable return on investment. One that you’ll find after making your website more accessible to the disabled.

SEO

Indeed, accessibility and SEO are intertwined—improve the former, and the latter naturally follows right along. And who doesn’t want better SEO?

Design

Accessibility can also save you from making bad design decisions. Not just decisions that might cause visitors to go “Ewww” in response to what they see. But also bad decisions that could actually cause your search rankings to fall.

For these reasons (and plenty of others), we at Valet believe a strong business case exists in favor of making websites accessible.

A website lacking accessibility prevents people with physical or neurologic impairments from utilizing it—effectively locking them out of opportunities to learn things, sign up for services, or buy promoted products.

Even Statistics Back Accessibility

Consider: 51 percent of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants are online. That’s at least 3.4 billion people roaming the ether and visiting websites.

Approximately 20 percent of that same 7.6 billion have impairments. That’s roughly 1.52 billion people.

Granted, not all of them use the Internet. But enough do that it ought to give you pause. Think about the massive number of people who cannot freely use and enjoy the Internet without some form of assistance.

Many of these differently-abled individuals might actually be in your target market. The statistical odds certainly favor that possibility.

The Other Type of Accessibility

This isn’t to suggest that website owners and operators, in general, are without awareness of accessibility. It’s just that their awareness isn’t typically focused on it. It’s instead focused on a type of accessibility different from the one being discussed in this post.

The type on which they’re likely focused has to do with mobile versions of a website. Whether a website will be responsive to visitors using the latest mobile device.

The type most are NOT thinking about has to do with whether everyone can access their website. Like if a blind person who independently visits their site will be able to “see” posted images. And this can only happen if the site owner or manager made the effort to make this possible. Because only if the alt-text descriptions of those images are added will this blind visitor even know they’re there.

Eventually, most website owners and managers will get it. They’ll recognize their responsibility to configure their websites in ways that allow access by users possessing different combinations of senses and physical capabilities.

Leading the Charge to Accessibility

Most website owners and managers will sooner or later catch on. Because that is the direction in which things are headed, thanks to a spreading movement to make accessibility the norm. At the forefront of this movement are U.S. institutions of higher education.

They are leading the charge because of two federal laws. The first is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). And the second is Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Both these statutes require post-secondary schools to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity. The opportunity to participate in and fully benefit from the programs in which they are enrolled.

Included in these laws are provisions. These require the schools to do all this by making reasonable affirmative accommodation for disabled individuals.

A quick online search of the phrase “university web accessibility policy” yields page after page of links. They take you to school-generated statements of compliance with these federal laws.

How good a job the universities have actually done in hewing to both the letter and spirit of the laws is a matter of opinion. However, there is no disputing the fact that achieving compliance can be a challenge.

Jeremy Felt can attest to that. He is the senior WordPress developer at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Not long ago, he delivered a presentation in which he described the hard work of bringing his school into compliance. He explained that WSU was pressed to act in response to complaints lodged through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights.

The Origins of Accessibility

As discussed, website accessibility is a serious concern for legal, social, and economic reasons.

However, you may be surprised to learn that this concern did not materialize overnight. Indeed, the issue traces back to the earliest days of the public internet.

When the commercial Internet was still in its infancy, World Wide Web inventor had this to say about accessibility:

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

Timothy Berners-Lee

Prof. Berners-Lee was also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). And at the time that he made this statement, there weren’t a whole lot of people using the Internet. In 1997, he launched the IPO for the Web Accessibility Initiative. And only about 1.7 percent of the world’s population was active online.

Sadly, much of what Berners-Lee hoped to accomplish languished during the decade that followed,. Even as multiplied millions swelled the ranks of online users.

However, Berners-Lee’s vision did not end up consigned to the dustbin of history. It has resurfaced, brimming with new energy and purpose.

Thus, as urged by Berner-Lee, in the development community today, a vibrant, ongoing discussion is taking place. Discussions about how to make the interwebs accessible.

This conversation inspires more and more leaders from each software niche. Encouraged to integrate accessibility into their development practices and into their dialogues with clients.

Your Role in Promoting Accessibility

Do you say you’re interested in joining this conversation but aren’t a developer? No problem. You can still participate. Even by simply talking with the Internet builders in your orbit. Ask them to help remove all barriers preventing those with disabilities from using the Internet.

Or, if you’d like to engage on a larger scale, there are ways to do that too. There are hundreds of conversations taking place in forums, chat channels, and other places. Where you can learn (and contribute ideas of your own) about how to make accessibility a website core-feature rather than an afterthought.

As an aside, you’ll be interested to know that WordPress is busily incorporating greater accessibility within its source code.

Conclusion

Here at Valet, we’re all about website healthcare—and we view accessibility as a critical component of that.

That’s why we regularly and enthusiastically take part in those developer-community conversations.

We participate because we want to be on the cutting-edge of accessibility solutions. We also do it because we want to be able to pass those solutions along to you.

As a business owner, you shouldn’t have to worry about the details. Everything down to the nuts and bolts of making your website compliant with accessibility law. You shouldn’t have to worry about your competitors getting ahead of you in the quest for greater accessibility.

Those are worries you can and should hand over to Valet. It’s one way to keep yourself focused on your core activities.

Really, web accessibility is a problem only if you allow it to be one.

Do you have questions about accessibility? Or about how to make it the most advantageous for you? Please feel welcome to ask us. We’d love to be of help.

Contact us at [email protected].

And be sure to ask about scheduling a Valet ADA Compliance Consulting assessment of your website’s accessibility health. It’s an essential first step in planning your journey to success with accessibility.

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