According to the World Health Organization, around 15% of the world’s population—or upwards of a billion people—lives with some form of disability. It’s a part of the human experience, and these days so is using the internet. Think of it this way: Would it be acceptable if only 85% of your emails went through? If your site were down almost two months out of the year? Would it be good business to keep your doors shut to more than one out of every six customers? Granted, not all disabilities affect web use. But designing with accessibility in mind isn’t just the right thing to do: it’s also good for business. But making sure that your sites are accessible also goes beyond simply being compliant with local laws. It’s a complex and dynamic issue that, when considered in good faith, can deepen the user experience for all of your website’s visitors. In this post, we will take a look at why accessibility is important and what the legality entails.
What is website accessibility and why is it important?
“Accessibility in the physical world is the degree to which an environment is usable by as many people as possible. Web accessibility is the degree to which a website is usable by as many people as possible. We can think about both kinds of accessibility as forms of inclusion.”
Just because your product or service wasn’t created with disability in mind doesn’t mean that people with disabilities won’t engage with your site. What we’re talking about when we talk about designing with accessibility in mind is empathy: the ability to think outside of our own experiences.
Web accessibility is all about ensuring that the tools and technologies present on any given site are designed so that everyone can perceive, understand, navigate, interact, and contribute appropriately to the site. Website accessibility must take all disabilities into consideration during the design and development of the site. This will include:
- Visual disability
- Auditory disability
- Cognitive disability
- Neurological disability
- Physical disability
- Speech disability
The tools that make your site accessible have benefits that reach far beyond the individuals for whom those tools were intended. But fundamentally, accessibility is a vital issue because we live in an age where basic participation in society relies upon internet usage. This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses and educational institutions have all moved online.
The first step toward making your website truly accessible is ensuring that it’s well-organized on the back end. A lot can be done when you’re coding the structure of a page, and smart organization on the part of the designer can make the site easy to use for screenreaders and others who are using the site in nontraditional ways.
Is it illegal for your site not to comply with the ADA?
First, I’m not a lawyer and can’t give you legal advice. That said, the answer to that question depends entirely on what kind of site you are operating. In the United States, only federal, state, and local government sites are required to meet section 508 regulations. Otherwise, there are few enforceable legal standards as regards the accessibility of your website. That said, there have been a number of lawsuits brought against companies that do not provide accessible sites (including The Wall Street Journal, Hershey’s, and Amazon, to name a few.) So, what does it mean to be ADA compliant, exactly?
The Americans with Disabilities Act set the standards for website compliance, and this applies to the aforementioned government sites, as well as private employers with more than 15 employees, and organizations that are operating for the benefit of the public. But even if your Company can afford the fees associated with shirking ADA compliance, you cannot ignore the negative impact it can have on your brand, and how it may affect the individuals attempting to interact with your site.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to ensure that your site is ADA compliant is to hire a designer or developer who keeps this at the forefront of your mind when creating your site. Clean, well-organized code on the back end is the first step toward true accessibility on the front end.
Accessibility and ADA compliance are more than just a sticker on your home page. They ensure that the maximum number of people possible can easily navigate all of your content. So do yourself a favor and make sure you’re considering all of your users from the very beginning of the site creation process.