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 plops into a chair or sofa, happily clicks away, and effortlessly consumes 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 (or as someone responsible for its content), you can’t in this day and age be cavalier about accessibility.

For one, the law won’t let you.

For another, the realities of doing business online today demand you make your site accessible to those who have impaired vision or hearing. Or 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.

Becoming Accessible

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

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

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.

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.

 

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

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 knowing that a massive number of people 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 is typically 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 whether a website will be responsive for visitors using the latest mobile device.

The type most are NOT thinking about has to do with whether, say, a blind person who independantly visits their site will be able to “see” posted images. Only if the site owner or manager made the effort to load alt-text descriptions of those images 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 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Both these statutes require post-secondary schools to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in and fully benefit from the programs in which they are enrolled.

Included in these laws are provisions that 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 that 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 Timothy Berners-Lee 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.”

At the time that Prof. Berners-Lee—who is also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—made this statement, there weren’t a whole lot of people using the Internet. In 1997, for instance, the year he launched the IPO for Web Accessibility Initiative, 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, in the development community today, a vibrant, ongoing discussion about how to make the interwebs accessible as urged by Berner-Lee is taking place.

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

Your Role in Promoting Accessibility

You say you’re interested in joining this conversation but aren’t a developer? No problem. You can participate simply by asking the Internet builders in your orbit 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 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.

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 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 in order to keep yourself focused on your core activities.

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

If you have questions about accessibility and about how to make it work most advantageously for you, please feel welcome to reach out to us. We’d love to be of help.

Contact us at hello@valet.io.

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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