What Is Web Accessibility and Why Companies Should Care

You’ve hired a developer and they’ve built you a beautiful website to sell your service or product but have you factored web accessibility into its design? What is web accessibility though? If you don’t have a disability yourself you may not have thought about it.

The number of people with a disability in the UK is staggering.  There are 14 million people with a disability, 19% are working-age adults and 46% are of pension age.

But sadly, too many websites lack accessibility features which not only means millions of people struggle to use the web, but it also means loss of revenue.

What is web accessibility?

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), website accessibility means websites that are properly designed and coded so that people with disabilities can access websites and mobile apps regardless of barriers.  It means making sure that people with visual, hearing, neurological, physical, motor or cognitive impairments are not excluded from your content.

Web accessibility isn’t just about people with disabilities.  It’s about everyone.  It’s perhaps easy to think about disability as something permanent but it can be situational or temporary which can affect how you access content across the web and across devices.

A permanent disability might be someone missing an arm.  A person who has broken their arm, their disability is temporary. A broken mouse is situational.  But the result is the same – they can’t use a mouse to navigate websites.

Website accessibility issues

The most common accessibility issues are often overlooked by web developers and designers.  Here are some of the most common ones to address:

Poor colour contrast

Think about someone who is visually impaired.  Choosing colours for your website with poor contrast makes navigating, reading and interacting with content quite difficult for someone who is visually impaired.  With accessibility in mind, good design would mean providing sufficient contrast between foreground and background colours.

Contrast ratio

Source: Harvard University

Complex layouts

Poor layouts and design are frustrating for everyone, but especially so for someone with a visual disability. Complex layouts make finding information difficult or impossible and confusing for people with cognitive and learning disabilities who need clarity and consistency.  Include clear headings, navigation bars and consistent styling to make sure you adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Missing alt text on images

Let’s say you have an image on your website of people sitting around a boardroom. Using alternative text is a way to describe an image if the image cannot be viewed for some reason.  Rather than just use “people” as a descriptor, enter a more detailed description such as “colleagues in a meeting around a boardroom table”.  Adding alternative text is really easy in WordPress if you’re using an SEO plugin.  It’s time-consuming if you have hundreds of images, but it’s a task well worth doing for SEO purposes and for your audience.

Missing, ambiguous or too many navigation links

Links help users navigate a website. It’s how we move from page to page and website to website.  But if it isn’t clear where a link is or how to click on it, then moving around a website becomes that more difficult.

Ambiguous links don’t help either.  A link on text such as “click here” or “ more information” is not only poor SEO practice but it’s also not helpful to the user since it does not indicate what the link is or where it leads to.

A website with too many navigation links causes problems because screen readers and assistive devices have to read out or click-through navigation links before getting to the main site.

Why should a company care about web accessibility?

It seems that businesses generally haven’t prioritised accessibility of their websites, and that has cost them in terms of brand loyalty, sales and litigation.

Spending power of the Purple Pound

The Purple Pound refers to the spending power of disabled households and it should and cannot be ignored. The spending power of disabled people and their families in the UK was estimated to be about £274 billion per year in 2018.

In 2016, the Click Away Pound survey found that more than 4 million people abandoned a retail website because of the barriers they found, taking with them an estimated spend of £11.75 billion. In 2019, that lost business, the ‘Click-Away Pound’, has grown to £17.1 billion.

the purple pound

Source: wearepurple.org.uk

It’s the right thing to do

It is a commonly agreed principle that everyone should have access to information online.  It comes down to inclusivity.  Just because someone has a disability, shouldn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to access information.

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect…The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability – Sir Tim Berners-Lee – inventor of the World Wide Web.

It’s a legal obligation

It is expected by law that businesses and service providers do not treat disabled people less favourably. So in order to avoid lawsuits, companies are required to adhere to national and international standards and guidelines. Under UK law, organisations have a legal responsibility to ensure their website is accessible. If it isn’t, you could be breaking the law.  The Equality Act of 2010 states that all UK service providers must consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

And finally…

Think about accessibility at the beginning of the design or redesign process. Like SEO, it’s best to implement these features at the very start rather than as an afterthought.

Web accessibility is a legal requirement and often not built into the design process. Find out what it is and how to avoid losing website visitors.

What Is Web Accessibility and Why Companies Should Care