(And what does accessible even mean?)

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”—Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

What is website accessibility?

An accessible website is one that includes certain features (some visible to the visitor, some hidden in the code) that create a comparable experience for all visitors, particularly for those who may have challenges experiencing the web. Most people are not aware that using the web is not an apples-to-apples experience for everyone.

A quadriplegic, for example, might browse web pages with a joystick powered by the tongue. Blind individuals have browsers that read websites to them. What would happen to either individual, if they encountered a site with no text, or that required excessive mouse movements?

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was created. At first, it only dealt with “barriers to entrance” meaning physical barriers, such as stairs, doors, etc. In 2010, the Act was updated to included websites. The ADA determined that denying access to information was indeed another type of barrier to entry.

Many of you will scoff and assume making your site accessible will be expensive, make it ugly, or worse, you believe you don’t have any handicapped visitors. You would be wrong in every case. The silliest excuse we’ve heard is, “What does being in a wheelchair have to do with going to my website?”

Did you know: There are over 50 million Americans with some form of disability.

The W3C defines web accessibility this way:

Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can:

  • Perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • Contribute to the Web

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech (this will be more of an issue in 2019 with the rise of voice assistants, like Alexa, SIRI, and Google Now).
  • Visual

The disabilities that make the web challenging may not be permanent and some may be the result of aging. For example, 90% of all people over 65 develop cataracts. I developed cataracts at the age of 40. I know firsthand how difficult reading online can be when you have them. For seniors, low contrast colors or small font sizes (under 16 point) make reading unnecessarily difficult, even painful. Over 8 million Americans have suffered some type of repetitive strain injury that makes scrolling a page—or using a mouse—painful during recovery.


What are the Business Benefits of Website Accessibility?

So now you know what accessibility is, and you know a tiny fraction of the disabilities that are affected. What you should know is that making your website accessible has other benefits to you and your company.

Here are the top business reasons to have an accessible website:

I. Humanity

Accessibility is the right thing to do. For the same reasons we put wheelchair ramps and handicap parking spots close to entrances, we should make websites and apps easier to use and experience.

II. Legal Requirements

Your industry may be legally required to be accessible. It’s not just government sites. For example, if your business offers online-only discounts, and your site is not accessible, you could be in trouble. Why? Because you’ve prevented the only means to that offer—the online store. You’ve also cost your company sales.

During the first half of 2018, 1,053 accessibility lawsuits were filed. Over 470 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in Q3 2018 alone. Know that disabled Americans are not a silent group. They are more than happy to call you out publicly, or in court if necessary.

  1. 2000: The first company to be sued for web accessibility was Bank of America.
  2. 2008: Target was hit with $6M in damages and $3.7M in legal fees.
  3. 2011: Wells Fargo had to shell out $16M
  4. 2014: H&R Block paid $45,000 to two plaintiffs and a $55,000 civil penalty.
  5. 2017: Kylie Jenner Cosmetics was taken to court. The plaintiff did not want money; just for the site to be accessible so the plaintiff could purchase products.

Sadly, the companies who often have the least-accessible sites are law firms. They should know better. They should do better. They should be the leading examples for their clients and for businesses as a whole. That needs to change.

III. Loyalty

Accessibility builds loyal customers. People with accessibility needs have it tough enough. When a company takes the time to make their life a little easier, they remember those companies. They are also loud promoters of brands who take care of them (and conversely, equally loud detractors against the companies who do not).

IV. Simplicity

Adding these features is not difficult, but that said, most web developers don’t know how to implement them. (We do, hint hint).

V. When Your Site is Accessible, Everybody Wins

When sites are made accessible, everyone can use them equally. And for those who are fortunate enough to have no disabilities of any kind, you will benefit as well. An accessible site just works. The navigation makes sense. The contact information is easy to find. The forms aren’t written for software engineers—they’re in plain language.

A common myth is that accessibility will lead to better search results (SEO). This is partly true, but less than five percent of what is done to make a site accessible relates to SEO. The reverse is even truer. The way an SEO professional writes may make sense to machines, but be utterly confusing to a blind person who is having the site read out loud.

“Let’s stop ‘tolerating’ or ‘accepting’ difference as if we’re so much better for not being different in the first place. Instead, let’s celebrate difference because in this world it takes a lot of guts to be different.”―Kate Bornstein

Everyone wants the web to be fully available to them at all times

Why should we see ourselves as more deserving of the web than our differently-abled friends and relatives? Would you have told Steven Hawking he wasn’t welcome on your site? No, of course not. But your site was probably a nightmare for him.

“We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”― Stevie Wonder

If you want to make your site accessible to everyone, please reach out to us. Element5 specializes in accessible, responsive websites. We can build one from scratch, or make the necessary changes required to adapt your existing site. Have an in-house developer? We can consult and guide them on getting your site to be ADA- and WCAG-compliant.

We believe access to the web is a basic, human right. Our company slogan reflects it: Crafting a better web. We want to make the web a little better with each project. Let’s talk.

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Dave Linabury

Director of Strategy

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