Surfing the Internet has become a way of life in today’s day and age of science and technology. There isn’t a day that I don’t use the web. And I know almost everyone can relate to this. Progressively, the Internet is playing a critical role in how we learn, run businesses and connect with others as it offers boundless possibilities. I can’t imagine reverting back to the days without the internet.
But for many, access to the web is limited due to factors such as geography, language barriers or disability. For those of us who publish content online, it is our responsibility to make our websites more accessible. Making websites accessible increases the number of possible visitors, and it may provide significant financial benefits. Web accessibility is also the right thing to do, both legally and morally.
For starters, what is web accessibility?
According to W3C, web accessibility refers to how people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web, and that they can contribute to the web. In simple words, it is how easily people with any kind of temporary or permanent disability can access the Internet and have a pleasant experience.
It has been found that about 20% of the world’s population has some sort of disability. Nepal’s Census Report 2011 showed the prevalence rate of disability in Nepal as 1.71 %. All of us naturally tend to develop various sensory, motor and cognitive impairments as we age. This implies as we continue to live longer and grow older, the number of people with disabilities is only going to increase. Concurrently, more and more information and services, as well as a larger portion of our daily social interactions, are moving online.
People, who otherwise might be unable to obtain and use the information and services most of us take for granted, can gain a certain independence and dignity with accessible websites. They can perform everyday activities like reading, working, shopping, socializing and simply participating in the community. What may seem a little to us can make a big difference for those living with temporary or permanent disabilities.
Web Accessibility is a social issue and accessible websites can make a real impact in many people’s lives.
Web accessibility allows more people to participate, actively contribute their thoughts and perspectives, helping society reach a fuller potential through greater collaboration and innovation.
Accessible websites also work better for older users with age-related accessibility needs. “Seniors” are becoming an even more important customer base for most organizations, as the percentage of older users is increasing significantly.
Consequently, doing little things to make your content and website more accessible will increase your site’s visibility with search engines. It will enable more people to see your links, and more people will click those links. Just creating a website that welcomes everyone, regardless of how they access your site, will form a positive image. All adding up to, aforementioned, significant financial benefits. This also promotes a culture of accessibility and inclusion.
Also, your accessible website will be prepping you for future technologies. Because accessibility is the future.
Accessibility in WordPress
Like many developers and designers, accessibility was not among my top priorities when building a website. I knew what accessibility was but never really gave much thought to it in my starting years. But now, as I am sharpened by my experiences and surroundings, I have learned its value.
The WordPress Foundation, the charitable organization behind WordPress, functions with the aim: to democratize publishing through Open Source, GPL software. The mission of WordPress is to equalize publishing for everyone.
If the purpose of WordPress is to make it possible for everyone to contribute content, does it not imply that anyone should be able to consume that content?
When the web is accessible, it can empower many people because an accessible website is often the easiest way to connect with people with disabilities. Also, what you do for accessibility overlaps with other best practices such a mobile web design, usability and search engine optimization (SEO).
Where to get started with accessibility?
First, you need to get acquainted with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Following the outlines set by the WCAG will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities. Following these guidelines will make your web content more usable in general.
Currently, WCAG is on its version 2.0 which is broken down into four key principles. They include:
- Perceivable: The site and its content should be presented in a way that visitors can perceive.
- Operable: The site along with is navigation need to work under a variety of circumstances.
- Understandable: The site and its entirety must be understandable to all users.
- Robust: The site be read and used by various user agents, including assistive technologies.
There are many ways to make your site more accessible but here are a few simple tips to get you started. Remember, this is only scratching the surface. Little habits in content production impact your website’s accessibility.
- Using Good, Clean HTML
You should be doing this anyway. Solid HTML structures make websites more accessible. By using all the proper header tags, bulleted lists, alt-tags, title tags, and meta descriptions, visually impaired visitors can understand what everything is and where everything is on the page. You’re also making it easier for screen readers to read. Using semantic headings help create both a visual and logical hierarchy of information.
- Including Keyboard Support
This falls in line with good HTML. You also need to ensure your site is entirely accessible through the keyboard. A trackpad or mouse shouldn’t be required to access all navigation. Without keyboard navigation support, the visitor won’t be able to tab to the links they want to visit.
- Offering Text Alternatives for Everything
Part of this is good HTML, but it also has to do with understanding that not every visitor is going to be able to see your fancy graphics and videos. It’s fine to include multimedia items but doing so without providing adequate descriptions and alternatives results in alienating an entire group of potential visitors.
- Include a Style-Free Option
Another thing you should do is to provide a simplified version of your site that omits all or most CSS. The trick is to offer this without sacrificing any of the layout, content, or navigational elements. From a developmental standpoint, this can be accomplished by separating the site’s structure and the site’s content.
- Include ARIA Landmarks
Designing with Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) means you need to include landmarks without your HTML and content that tell assistive technologies what it’s reading, where the visitor is on the page, and what to do next.
- Providing Good Contrast
Another important thing to offer is a high contrast option. Well, actually you could just opt to provide a high contrast design in the first place that’s easier for those with visual impairments to view and process. Or, if you’re committed to a certain look, you can provide a high contrast option.
- Avoid Seizure-Inducing Graphics
Flashing content is a big no-no when designing for accessibility as flashing lights and fast-moving images have been known to trigger seizures in those susceptible. If you simply must include something that flashes on your site, ensure it falls below the appropriate threshold.
- Remove Time-Limits
Make sure any media you include on your site can be paused and replayed as often as the visitor’s needs. Also, provide alternatives for those with disabilities when encountering a time-sensitive portion of your site like a quiz or test.
Accessibility should no longer be treated as a bonus feature. Accessibility is a rights issue. Many countries are adding accessibility as a legislated requirement. In layman’s terms, if you are building website that is not accessible, you are discriminating against anyone with accessibility challenges. The thing is, accessibility does not require major extra work. If you follow web standards, then you can build accessible WordPress themes. This does require a lot of sitting on the computer making small modifications but think of it as another task that you should perform, like SEO.
I have already stressed the importance of accessibility at Acclaim Technology, and we have been making our themes and designs more accessible. I look forward to a day when users with disabilities have the same ability to access content as everyone else. And if designers and developers need incentives for doing this, making a websites accessible to all means your website traffic will increase and ultimately, you will have a more successful website.
Remember, it is a learning process and accessibility is time dependent. So keep learning, keeping yourself updated with the latest in accessibility. Just because you had an accessible website last year does not mean you are good for the rest of your web-ing days. Learn to make the web a better and accessible place for all.
(Featured Image taken from carriedils.com)