When developing a website or online campaign, one often-overlooked consideration is accessibility. In broad terms, accessibility means making the information and services on a website available to individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities.
A Brief Background
Just as businesses with physical locations are encouraged (and in many cases required) to make their facilities accessible through amenities such as wheelchair ramps, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act outlines standards for the accessibility of digital information. Some of the more common concerns for web accessibility include making sure that a website is navigable by individuals with impaired vision, hearing, reading speed or comprehension, or who cannot operate a mouse or keyboard.
As a law, Section 508 only applies to government agencies, but an ever-increasing number of private organizations are choosing to follow the guidelines set forth therein. Several large corporations, including Target and Netflix, have even been successfully sued for having websites that were inaccessible to those with disabilities.
Accessibility in Practice
Making a website accessible isn’t as daunting as it might initially seem. When creating an accessible website, designers should keep in mind font size and color contrast, and developers should use correct markup to ensure that any information that is conveyed through visual cues such as color or layout is also discernable in another way (for instance, by using proper <h> tags for headings and alternative text for images). Another critical feature of any accessible website is consistent navigation and the ability to skip past said navigation using only a keyboard.
Accessibility also affects content. The U.S. government aims to keep all written content at or below an eighth-grade reading level to ensure its comprehensibility to the broadest audience. Also, any content with an automated time limit (such as a rotating carousel or a form that times out after a certain amount of time) may be inaccessible to individuals with mental impairments. Finally, video or audio media on an accessible site should be accompanied by captions in a standard format.
In the digital age, the inability to use websites can make even a seemingly minor disability that much more crippling. As such, more and more business owners are interpreting it as their civil obligation to accommodate such disabilities wherever possible. As famed usability expert Don Norman said, “When we design something that can be used by those with disabilities, we often make it better for everyone.”