Web accessibility is an important concept that every company should use to inform practice. Making sure your digital presence is accessible is an important part of doing social good, improving business outcomes, and engaging more deeply with a wider audience. Here’s a brief overview.
What is web accessibility?
The Web Accessibility Initiative states
that ‘Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.’ The web, in many ways, is a fundamentally accessible idea. The benefits of this accessibility positively impact the experiences of people with disabilities. They also help people with situational limitations (like bright lighting or a lack of audio capability), people using mobile devices, people with slower internet, and more.
This is important to think about in the context of disability as a social construction in the physical world. We know that there are structural barriers that exist in the world which prevent equal access to institutions and experiences for some people. The decisions we make about what is worth designing around are fundamentally biased. These decisions inform the environments we construct in the world, and the ways we exclude or include people with different abilities.
As a virtual space, the web has the incredible potential to remove barriers to interaction and access that exist in the physical world. This means a lot of potential for a positive social impact. However, any web design must carefully take accessibility into account for this goal to be achieved.
Motivating factors for web accessibility are numerous and include legal, business, and ethical reasons. Some laws have minimum requirements for government websites and educational institutions’ websites. Additionally, some industries or individual organizations have existing guidelines for best practice beyond legal minimum requirements. These types of motivating factors
often drive organizations to compliance-level accessibility. Organizations that deem the negative impacts of non-compliance too great a risk often invest in compliance.
Some organizations want to pursue web accessibility because of its business benefits. More usable and appealing web tools and content often mean more engaged customers and stakeholders, an increased market reach, and brand enhancement.
The why for some groups is also informed by what they think is right for social good. Organizations that see web accessibility as a way to make the world a more equitable place often want to invest their time and capital.
How to become accessible on the web
There are several levels of design and development where accessibility is important. These include development, content creation, SEO, project management, and more. Your organization's approach will also depend on your immediate context; incorporating accessible design from the beginning of a project is much different than retrofitting a design as an interim measure. Additionally, you may need to build skills and expertise in your team to implement web accessibility.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources to guide you as you strive for greater accessibility. Here’s a list of a few resources to start with:
- The Web Accessibility Initiative’s Planning and Managing Web Accessibility guide
- usability.gov’s How To and Tools resource page
- Google Developers’ Web Fundamentals: Accessibility document
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