Web Accessibility: It Pays

September 4, 2015
Genevieve Nelson

Among Americans, 20% have some kind of disability that could affect how they use the web. Making your website accessible for these users has many benefits, including improved sales and search rankings.

UX & Design

The cost of building a website includes more than just its aesthetic design. Hidden costs include things like SEO, responsive design, and to a lesser extent, accessibility. All of these things add up. Are they worth it? Definitely! Then why isn’t site accessibility a higher priority?

Holdups to Accessibility

One reason is that programmers, CEOs, and business analysts are not aware of accessibility guidelines.

Imagine you’re blind, and you want to buy a pair of new shoes online. You go to your favorite online shoe retailer, find the shoes you want, and put them in your cart. When you start to fill out your credit card info, you realize that there are no labels for the form fields. There are also no title tags. You can’t read the form, so you can’t make the purchase. Feeling frustrated, you abandon the transaction, and that retailer loses a sale.

This kind of thing happens every day. Among Americans, 20% have some type of disability that could affect how they use the web. Understanding how different users navigate the web is crucial to making the web available to everyone.

Another holdup is that web accessibility isn’t mandated yet. When you pay by the hour, you don’t want to spend more for things you don't have to have. The U.S. government abides by Section 508 guidelines in the public sector, however, those guidelines don't apply to most private sector organizations. Does a law have to be passed before we start doing the right thing?

Benefits of Accessibility

The most important benefit is that more people will be able to interact with your website. Your ecommerce site could likely see an increase in sales because it is easier to use. Your SEO ranking will increase, as Google acts much like a screen reader.

A less obvious benefit is that you may reduce your risk for potential litigation. Even organizations that aren’t regulated by Section 508 have been subject to lawsuits about accessibility. H&R Block is one example. I suspect that in the next few years we will see U.S. regulations based on the WCAG 2.0 for all websites.

What Can I Do Right Now?

Put in virtual handicap ramps! People with disabilities are trying to use your website, and they may not be able to get through the front door. To get started, I recommend testing your website with the WebAIM validator. This tool uses both Section 508 and the WCAG 2.0 to uncover basic accessibility issues on your site.

If you are a programmer, familiarize yourself with ARIA attributes and properties. These communicate between the browser and screen readers. ARIA makes things like modal windows, dropdown navigations and hide/reveals usable. Who says accessible websites have to be boring?

Of course, there is no substitution for an actual human test. Try using ChromeVox or Apple’s VoiceOver to navigate your website. If you can, find a person with a disability who can run usability tests on your website.

It is most cost-effective to add accessibility from the beginning of a website design. But it is never too late to make your website more accessible. It may take time, but it is the right move for your organization.

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