Spiria logo.
Guy Verville
in “ Web development“, 
August 02, 2022.

Web access for all

There’s no denying that the Internet is essential for communication, work, and entertainment. Access to cyberspace has become an essential right, and with this come colossal efforts to make the world wide web accessible to all to accomplish an increasing number of daily tasks. However, merely building the infrastructure doesn’t guarantee universal communications access.

The Internet’s ubiquity

There’s no denying that the Internet is essential for communication, work, and entertainment. Access to cyberspace has become an essential right, and with this come colossal efforts to make the world wide web accessible to all to accomplish an increasing number of daily tasks. However, merely building the infrastructure doesn’t guarantee universal communications access.

Challenges in this essential mission include both the limited capacity of web browsing devices, as well as people’s varying abilities to search, view, and understand the information. This impacts all age groups as well as persons living with visual, motor, and cognitive disabilities, who might be poorly equipped to deal with screens, keys, images, and sounds on wildly different devices.

Worrying statistics

WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) is an influential non-profit organization working to promote accessibility. Its 2022 report speaks volumes: over 98% of the world’s websites don’t make the grade! The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) drafted sample cases of the kinds of issues one might encounter while browsing the web. Indeed, CrownPeak reports that businesses lose more than a trillion US dollars due to common web accessibility issues.

Ensuring a web presence that is as inclusive as possible is not just a concern for government and public institutions. Shopify points out that it also benefits companies and shopping outlets to adapt their communications for their customers:

“From a strictly business point of view, your site should be accessible because driving away visitors who have disabilities means lost conversions and revenue for businesses.”

Around 20% of consumers have a hard time browsing the web, so we’re talking about a sizable group of people!

In February 2022, the Tooltester website published “The world’s most accessible websites”, a ranking of the best – and worst – web sites, by accessibility. The article provides valuable examples of hurdles encountered by persons with disabilities.

The Five rules of accessibility

The WAI drafted five guidelines that define a website’s accessibility. The site should be:

  1. Perceivable. Use of all senses, i.e. the different modes of perception other than sight and hearing.
  2. Operable. Use of keyboard and automated browsing tools or of dynamic elements that don’t require specific timing, spacing, etc.
  3. Understandable. Use of simple language, predictable presentation, and automated assistance.
  4. Robust. Compatibility with most devices and situations.
  5. Compliant. Conformity with universal standards of accessibility.

These guidelines are ranked by order of importance and are grouped in three levels: A, AA and AAA.

The lowest level, level A, merely requires the absence of browsing traps. A couple of examples: when reaching the bottom of a page, you should be able to get back to the top even when using a keyboard; information should not be conveyed solely with images or color.

The next level, AA, makes for a reasonably accessible website. Some friction remains for some users, but significant accessibility goals are met. This is the level now mandated for government institutions.

Unsurprisingly, a site complying with all criteria earns the highest level, AAA. Granted, this category is out of reach for most sites, and only the largest government institutions and companies have the resources and budget necessary to apply the standards.

So, what does accessibility cost?

It depends! The secret is in the preparation. Embedding accessibility in your website will cost little if:

  1. You plan it right from the start.
  2. You hire experts familiar with AA standards.
  3. You know your users.
  4. You budget for user testing.

For an existing website, an incremental-steps accessibility strategy would consist in applying patches to get to level A. Thereafter, gradual investment, especially in the design of web-based user forms, will help you reach AA level.

Let’s go over the four tips to building a website that take both budget and accessibility requirements into account.

Planning wisely

If you code in haste, you’ll repent at leisure.

  1. Choose a site design with built-in accessibility. Many CMS templates such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla are accessible in and of themselves, which will simplify your work.
  2. Pick a color palette that meets the standards. Avoid the “tone on tone” trend – it’s usually illegible. You can comply with the WAI’s rules and still do attractive work. The NIH is an example.
  3. Use basic language. The briefer your message, the easier it is to understand. Website text should sit between high-school and college levels. The Scolarius tool can help you in this (English version forthcoming).
  4. Correctly rank the textual content. In HTML, the language of the web, we refer to H1, H2, H3 headers. For example, there should be only one H1 header per page. H2 subheads always come before H3, and so on.

Hire the right people

It goes without saying that the people who design and build your website need to understand the AA standard. They’ll integrate the standard’s code and best practices upstream, giving you advance notice if some of the requirements to earn AA level are missed. This will save you many unpleasant surprises down the line.

Know your target customer

Though the goal is to implement AA standards by default, it’s also helpful to know your users’ profiles. If you already have a website, you’ve probably set up traffic cookies such as Google Analytics. If you haven’t, start with that.

If, for example, you notice that a majority of your website visitors are older and use computers rather than smartphones, you’ll be in a better position to prioritize the relevant accessibility standards.

User testing

User testing isn’t only about accessibility. It’s a key step in building or rebuilding a website, which helps you eliminate hurdles your users might encounter. The testing phase pays for itself as it can save you time, money and aggravation once your site goes live.

To sum up

Implementing accessibility standards is a win-win with clear return on investment. Big names in the business and financial fields have already caught on to this. Once your company gets on board, the standards will become second nature, driving you even further down the road to inclusion and respect for all users.

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