Even though accessibility is crucially considered in almost every part of modern day life, and rightly so, there is still a scary number of websites that are inaccessible to the 13.3 million disabled people in the UK alone.
Where accessibility in terms of devices and browsers used to access a site is constantly talked about and considered, it’s time to banish the ghost of inaccessibility for disabled users.
Statistics on internet users of the UK, released by the Office of National Statistics in 2018, revealed that the percentage of adults with a disability who had recently used the internet was overall lower than that of adults who were not disabled. This is the case across all age groups and looking at previous reports, has been for quite a while. Although this is changing, and the gap has closed slightly now compared to 2016, it still begs the question: are users being put off because of accessibility issues?
The web is a massive part of everything we do nowadays, whether it’s for socialising, entertainment and getting creative or more serious things like finding information, paying bills and registering a change of address. If developed with consideration, websites could actually be a great, powerful tool for disabled users to complete tasks. However, the ‘Better Connected’ survey completed by Socitem (Society for IT practitioners in the public sector) reveals that 40% of UK council websites did not pass the basic accessibility criteria in 2016-17. Council websites that are there to help are proving to be unusable to many disabled people.
The constant progressions of technology and web design standards proves to actually be having a negative impact on website accessibility. According to WebAIM in 2017, many major online names had actually become less accessible than they were six years prior. It may be that the ever-changing technology requirements and updates are making it hard for developers and designers to keep accessibility at the forefront of their mind. However, accessibility is never something that should be disregarded in development.
As stated on Gov.uk, if your service is not accessible to everyone who needs it, you may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. One of the standards for meeting the government accessibility requirements is to meet level AA of W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Requirements (WCAG 2.1). W3C develop web standards and are on a mission to ‘lead the Web to its full potential’ and to do this every potential user must have access to it and that’s why they have outlined the considerations needed to make websites as accessible to as many users as possible.
The 2018 guidelines can be found here https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/
So not only does an inaccessible site raise ethical issues, but it can also have legal implications, both of which could be very damaging for a business's reputation. Scary stuff. On top of this, you may be limiting your audience reach and possibly losing out financially. UK research at ‘Click-away pound’ suggests that in 2016, a failure to provide fully accessible websites cost UK retailers £11.75 billion in revenue in one year alone. Just as with every web user, if a site doesn’t work, they won’t be using it for long and accessibility issues can seriously reduce the interest in your site. Good accessibility is, in fact, a feature that works nicely alongside SEO, potentially reducing your bounce rates and increasing conversions.
Guidelines and standards are there to help you though. The WCAG guidelines, mentioned earlier, are organised under four principles, which should always be considered through design and development to ensure all your user's needs are met.
Perceivable - The way interface components may be perceived by the user should be considered and text alternatives, adaptable content and distinguishable presentation should be implemented.
Operable - Consider the way in which the user will operate the hardware and your site. Input type and keyboard only navigation, pausable content and timing, and flashing content should all be thought about carefully.
Understandable - Information on the site and the sites possible operations must be understandable to all users. Language, presentation and input responses should be assessed here.
Robust - Content should be interpreted by user agents such as assistive technologies. The markup of code and content is crucial here.
As well as familiarising yourself with these guidelines and the accessibility requirements, sites such as gov.uk and home office resources can prove to be extremely helpful. They highlight the key areas of websites that affect users with different disabilities and help you assess the accessibility of your own website.