Ever since web accessibility became a pressing topic on the project I am working on, we have been working hard to convince both (some) colleagues as well as the client that improving accessibility is definitely not just a necessary evil but a massive chance. If you are facing the same challenge or maybe still need convincing yourself, this list might be useful to you. It’s by no means extensive so please let me know in the comments what points you use to argue in favour of accessibility or what challenges you faced.
When talking about improving web accessibility, one quickly has just a single kind of user in mind. In reality, having a disability can mean many different things: you could for example, be dependent on using a keyboard due to a permanent impairment, like an amputee, but also just have a broken arm or simply your hands full. This kind of categorization (permanent (e.g. blindness), temporal (e.g. twisted arm) and situational (e.g. being distracted by a newborn)) can be transferred to all types of disabilities and helps illustrate that there are many, multifaceted kinds of users benefitting from an accessible product: It’s not only about developing for your (future) self, it’s in the details: adding subtitles to video content or keyboard accessibility to a form benefits everyone, regardless of ability: Whether you are on the train or at the office and can’t switch our sound on or the video isn’t in a language you are fluent in; you’re navigating a site pressing the tab key because it’s faster or you maybe have no other choice – it doesn’t matter. We have all been there: sunshine hits your phone at a funny angle and the option to increase contrasts and brightness saves your day. Accessibility benefits all of us.
Of course, screen reader accessibility is a huge topic and really important to improve the experience many people make online. While screen readers support users with visual impairments, some other groups are frequently overlooked: We need transcripts and subtitles for people with a hearing impairment, keyboard navigation for folks with physical disabilities and an option to switch to plain language or minimising distractions can help users with cognitive impairments.
SEO, meaning the optimization of a website for search engines like Google, is quite essential to reaching literally anybody on the internet. The best product, most important information and best cause won’t go far without being actually findable online. Luckily, in terms of crawling a page, Google works a little like a screen reader: it needs proper headlines, semantically correct HTML, page structures and alt tags to name a few things. Making your site accessible will affect your page rank positively, drive more traffic to your page and is likely to decrease your ad spendings. A lot of good reasons to give it a shot.
If none of the above helped convince decision makers, this usually helps: the business value of accessibility is undeniable – not being accessible costs your organization a lot of potential users. A survey conducted in the US found that 20% of the overall population suffers from some kind of impairment; and especially considering that the world population is growing older every day and the different types of disabilities (situational, temporal, permanent) mentioned above should illustrate the amount of potential customers lost.
Moreover, especially younger generations are sensitive to perceived social injustice or exposed bad practises. Molly Burke’s (visually impaired Youtuber) over 2 Million followers might rethink their shopping decisions seeing how much blind people struggle using certain webpages.
The legal requirements regarding web accessibility differ from country to country, ranging from no regulation at all to WCAG 2.0 standards for public sector websites (as in the European Union) or much more extensive rules like in Canada, where organisations above 50 employees must follow the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Cases like the notorious Domino’s Pizza incident, where a blind man challenged and won the legal battle against the fast food chain because their website was inaccessible to him illustrate the consequences of not complying with the local laws regarding accessibility.
As the internet shapes so many essential parts of our life every day, it’s all the more pressing to provide access to everyone, regardless of their ability. The internet, after all, is meant to be for everybody, right? Creating and developing our products and services with accessibility not only in mind but as the foundation of every step will not only help establish an inclusive environment but also make these applications better for every single user.
There are many good reasons to keep accessibility in mind when creating an experience, of course regardless of on- or offline. While it can seem like an overwhelming challenge when first confronted with these opportunities, accessibility should by no means be an ‘all or nothing’ approach: every little step you take to make your website a little more inclusive is important.