Web accessibility: Why it’s important to ensure your online journey isn’t alienating your users

Can a diverse range of users with a wide variety of needs easily navigate your website?

If you’re not delivering an inclusive, user-friendly online experience, you might already be alienating millions of users who currently identify as disabled.

In 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium developed a series of standards – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – that aim to ensure that websites are accessible to people with disabilities that include hearing impairment, blindness, and learning disorders.

But, although governments around the world are putting measures in place to enforce these and other similar guidelines, many businesses still lack awareness of basic accessibility issues.

“When you’re creating online experiences, you need to keep in mind everyone in terms of availability and accessibility,” says Aaron Cluka, training manager in Squiz’s Auckland office. “Research says that 20 per cent of any given population is considered disabled, whether that’s through age or eye changes, motor skills or socio-economic issues.”

Designing an accessible website involves much more than just creating an uncluttered interface and ensuring that a customer with a smartphone can quickly browse your site.

So, how can your business eliminate barriers to accessibility and make sure that your online journey is equitable and doesn’t leave out customers?

There’s no shortcut to being accessible

Getting the basics right is fundamental. However, although image descriptions and simple layouts with clear language go a long way, it’s essential to pay attention to the context of your content.

“Take hyperlinks, for example,” says Aaron. “Those who use screen readers will navigate completely though hyperlinked text hearing only the words that you’ve associated with those links – and repeatedly hearing ‘click here’ won’t make any sense to a blind user on your site.”

Your website should be easy to navigate, with associated text for images and hyperlinks, but you need to implement that in a way that’s intuitive for your users; otherwise, there’s no point.

It’s equally important to design for readability and different literacy levels. It’s about finding the right balance.

“We don’t want to create a web experience that speaks down to our audience or one that becomes so complicated that they don’t get the message,” Aaron says. “Also, as our population becomes more diverse and multicultural, we need to cater to users for whom English is a second language. We need to reach as many people as possible, in both content and form.”

Web accessibility is an ongoing commitment

Fortunately, if you’re unsure about how to create an accessible online experience, there’s no shortage of resources and tools.

“Squiz has produced a free CodeSniffer tool, built into our Edit+ software, that flags things that are inaccessible, as well as areas that could use improvement,” Aaron says. “Matrix and Funnelback work together to scan the pages of your website to test for readability levels and response times. Slow response times can negatively impact accessibility as well as the user experience.”

Ultimately, designing an accessible website is an ongoing commitment – one that means spending time educating yourself, investing in new resources, and knowing where to improve.

Accessibility means an engaging, user-friendly experience for everyone

Although web accessibility aims to improve the user experience for impaired users, it has far-reaching effects on your website as a whole. The benefit of complying with accessibility standards is that all people who visit your site will enjoy a more user-friendly, and therefore engaging, experience.

“Web Accessibility doesn’t have to be a chore,” Aaron says. “By integrating these checks into your normal content management process, you will be able to stay compliant and provide first class service to your customers and visitors.”

Review your website today. Make sure you’re delivering an experience that speaks to the needs of every customer rather than rebuilding the very barriers your users are trying to surmount.

Learn about how we’ve made our own site accessible.

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