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Why is Accessibility Important in Web Design, and How to Ensure Compliance

Today,  a website is an essential marketing tool for businesses, regardless of the industry or the size of the organization. It facilitates them to establish profitable engagements with customers and capitalize on the ever-growing popularity of the Internet.

While developing a website, UI/UX design agencies consider several factors that maximize its usability. They select appropriate UI elements and arrange them in an optimized layout to offer the best possible user experience. As we’ll discuss in this article, it’s essential that the design plan factors in the needs and expectations of people with disabilities. The scope of usability must also include accessibility.

Remember: A good design appeals to regular users. But a great design is for everyone.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to approaches that make websites available to persons afflicted by impairments. Broadly, there are two requirements:

  • Such users must be allowed to make use of all the features and functions. The website must present the same information to all visitors without any limitations.
  • Users must be able to do this with little or no external support. In other words, the website must inherently serve their needs by design.

Web accessibility aligns websites to the principles of “Universal Design,” which aspire to create products that fulfill the needs of everyone – irrespective of their abilities, age, or other diversities.

Why is web accessibility important?

Accessibility, as a concept, has been in the public discourse for decades. The special needs of the disabled have gradually been integrated into policies and legislation. Most of the endeavors have aimed at improving physical access to services, employment, or recreation, with facilities such as wheelchair ramps or braille signage.

Today, a digital revolution is rapidly transforming lives across communities. From websites and smartphone apps to games, new age tools are revolutionizing how people obtain information, interact with a company, learn a skill, or simply unwind. For businesses, a sound web strategy that accommodates accessibility considerations is the need of the hour; UI/UX design agencies must reinvent their web development approaches.

Let’s now understand why web accessibility is critical.

  • Expand your market According to a WHO report published in 2011, 15% of the world’s population, or about 1 billion people, have some form of disability. The figures vary from country to country. In India, the figure is 2.2%, or approximately 27 million, according to a survey conducted by the government in 2018. These are sizeable numbers no business leader can afford to ignore. When a website is optimized for accessibility, it’s geared up to address the needs of a larger section of people.
  • Comply with legal provisions In several countries, local laws mandate non-discriminatory treatment of persons with disabilities, in line with Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Web accessibility-related legal provisions flow from Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a comprehensive set of standards for web designers, policymakers, and researchers issued by the World Wide Web Consortium. In the USA, websites must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act. European Accessibility Act (EAA) applies in the European Union. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of India requires digital content to provide for “reasonable accommodations. “The onus is on UI/UX design agencies in India and across the world to study and conform to the applicable regulations to avoid legal troubles or penalties.
  • Enhance the brand image When a website is optimized for accessibility, it demonstrates your company’s commitment to serving the cause of disadvantaged people. It enhances your stature as a socially responsible and inclusive organization that cares. Paying heed to accessibility needs might look like a simple gesture, but it’s a remarkably effective way to boost your reputation and enhance the brand’s value.
  • Improve SEO performance SEO is a key objective of web projects. Designers continually tweak the design for improved SERP ranking as they plan, deploy, and manage websites. It may be hard to imagine accessibility as a contributing factor. But the truth is that Google and other search engines evaluate a site not just on individual elements, such as keywords, but also on the overall user experience. When optimized for accessibility, the site gets more agreeable for everyone, boosting its prospects to emerge higher on search results.

What are the key considerations?

Before we discuss how to implement web accessibility, it’s beneficial to understand the challenges it attempts to address. The nature of impairments that can potentially limit the visitor’s experience includes:

  • Visual: Blindness, poor eyesight or low vision, color blindness
  • Mobility: Limb loss, muscle slowness, tremors, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, stroke
  • Auditory: Partial loss of hearing, deafness
  • Seizures: Photo epileptic convulsions triggered by flashing effects
  • Intellectual: Learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s, PTSD

The impairment may be temporary or permanent. It may even be situational, such as when a person answers a phone call while filling out a web form. The goal of web accessibility initiatives is to help users overcome a wide variety of barriers. Web accessibility guidelines refer to various components that must work together to achieve results. Among these are:

  • The content: Text, graphics, video, and audio, their structure and presentation
  • User agents: Web browsers and media players
  • Assistive technology: Screen readers, specialized keyboards, scanning and optical recognition tools
  • Users’ profile: Their experience, knowledge, skills
  • Developers: Web designers, artists, programmers, content writers
  • Web authoring tools: CMS, page builders, plug-ins, themes
  • Evaluation tools: Web accessibility evaluators, checklists, HTML/CSS validators

Designers must understand how each component interacts with and influences others. This provides insights into where interventions will be most effective and how they must be introduced.

How to implement web accessibility?

One of the apprehensions about web accessibility is that it imposes severe restraints on the designer’s creative thinking. The goal, after all, is to create visually engaging sites with attractive graphics, colors, buttons, and fonts. Should aesthetics be sacrificed for accessibility? Professional UI/UX design agencies have provided a convincing answer by balancing the two seemingly disparate factors. Their success stems from a few approaches:

  • Keyboard navigation does your website require a mouse for navigation? Can users make do with just a keyboard? Web accessibility guidelines (and related laws in some countries) mandate that the site be fully browsable with a keyboard. All the functions must allow the use of keyboards, including specialized models designed for disabled people. The website’s structure must follow a natural visual order – vertical or horizontal – to facilitate navigation with the keyboard’s arrow keys.
  • Readability The copy on the site plays a crucial role in disseminating the information. Designers must ensure it poses no problems to users with vision issues such as color blindness, nearsightedness, or low vision. It’s essential to pick appropriate fonts and optimize their size, style, and weight for headings, subheadings, and body text. The spacing between characters, lines, and paragraphs must also be large enough to enhance readability.
  • Color and contrast colors evoke powerful emotions. While choosing a palette, designers try to enrich the visual quality while adding emphasis to the content. The colors of the background and text need to have adequate contrast and they should combine well. This particularly affects persons with color blindness or poor eyesight.
  • Screen reader compatibility Screen readers are immensely helpful for people with visual impairments. They convert the text on the screen into speech and read it out to the user. By design, they parse the copy in a linear manner and can lose their way if the content spans multiple panels in an irregular arrangement. Normal users will have no trouble with such a design; they may even find it visually stimulating. But the screen reader’s output will be incoherent or unintelligible for users with a disability. Web developers must ensure the layout is screen reader-friendly.
  • Feedback When a disabled user interacts with a website, the impairment may affect their confidence. They may find it difficult to judge if the mouse cursor is over the correct link or button, if they indeed clicked on it, or if the site is working on the request. Acknowledging user’s actions with visual or aural feedback is a reassuring measure that enhances their experience. It also helps you acquire their trust.
  • Clickability of links and buttons The clickable objects, particularly CTA buttons, must be prominently visible to users with defective vision. Adequate space between adjacent elements makes the elements easier to spot, minimizing the possibility of unintended clicks. This also makes touch-sensitive interfaces easier to use. Ensuring the legibility of button labels and descriptive text on links is equally crucial.

How to check for web accessibility

Pre-launch accessibility evaluation is a standard practice followed by leading UI/UX design agencies. The first step is to prepare a checklist. World Wide Web Consortium provides extensive information on the factors to consider.

In general, a website accessibility audit can employ one or more of the following methods:

  • Automated testing tools, which are essentially computer programs developed to detect potential issues. This approach offers quick results, but its usefulness is limited by the program’s algorithms.
  • Scrutiny by an expert, where an experienced professional reviews the site. While feedback from a specialist is always valuable, the process may take time, especially with large websites.
  • User testing, where a real user takes a shot at a mock website, usually under the supervision of an accessibility expert. As the user carries out specific tasks, their difficulties can be observed and recorded. This approach offers reasonably realistic feedback, but it may be skewed by the tester’s biases or habitual usage patterns.

In some cases, employing a third-party web accessibility audit consultant can save time and resources. These specialists plan and manage the entire audit process – from identifying best-fit assessment methods and lining up the required resources to conducting the test runs. With their comprehensive, objective analysis and professional advice, unknown issues can be unearthed and fixed.

Looking for top-notch, accessible website design ideas that deliver? Talk to us. Ours is a young UI/UX design studio driven by a passion for excellence. We love building new-age design strategies for businesses keen to benefit from futuristic thinking. With our customer-focused approach, agility, and positive attitude, we fulfill the exacting needs of global organizations. Our services span the entire UX spectrum, addressing the unique challenges and expectations of startups, mid-size companies, and enterprises.

Author avatar
Mathuram N, Lead UX Strategist, Ambian