In recent months we’ve been called upon to analyze and implement changes on websites in order to help them become compliant with web accessibility standards. What does web accessibility mean exactly? At its core the goal is to make web content available to the widest possible audience with special attention paid to those who have a variety of disabilities. Just like accessibility issues being addressed in the physical world, increasingly, website owners are becoming aware of the need to make their sites available to all. People with disabilities are estimated to be nearly 20% of the population.
A real world example is when Target was sued because purchases could not be completed without the use of a mouse. I doubt it was their wish to exclude people unable to use a mouse from shopping on the website. They probably just weren’t thinking about it. You can read more about the Target case.
"Viewing" Inaccessible Content
Imagine you have an event coming up. It's going to be fun. You want everyone to attend, so you want to post it on your website. This is a big event so you already had flyers designed and printed. The flyer has all of the information you want to include and the design is lovely. You convert it to an image and when you make the web page you add the image of the flyer. The computer asks you for something called "alt text" but you don't know what that mean so you leave it blank and publish the page. With the image of the flyer your page has all the information you wish to convey.
Mary has attended your events in the past and hears there's a new event on your calendar, so she navigates to the page, hoping to find out more. But she does not. The page is blank. Mary is blind. In order to use a web site she needs a special program called a screen reader, that converts the text on the page into speech and allows her to navigate the page with the keyboard.
For Mary, the page is blank because the screen reader cannot read the text in the image. The "alt text" you left blank is the alternative text to describe the image to screen readers. Mary will never know about your event. And may never return to your website. This is actually a fairly common error but there are solutions. We can offer you training in making sure your content is available to people like Mary.
Other critical areas where accessibility needs special focus are navigation menus, web forms and using proper headings on content sections. The great thing about making these and other features accessible is that you don’t need to sacrifice effective and compelling web design that appeals to everyone else. A focus on accessibility can improve readability and understanding. Properly structured content can also enhance your search engine rankings.Search engines use similar techniques for analyzing content as screen readers. If a screen reader has a hard time analyzing a page, a search engine might as well, which could lead to a lower ranking.
Let's Make the Web Better
Is your organization’s site required to comply with some level of accessibility? That’s hard to say. If you are a government entity or receive funds from the Federal government, quite possibly you are, or soon will be required to comply. At some point, it’s feasible all websites will be required to be compliant. But even if you are not yet compelled into compliance why would you make it difficult for approximately 20% of the public to view and interact with your web content? It’s a relatively small investment for a potentially large reward.
Your website should be an open and inviting place to all even if you are not required by regulation to make it so. We can help you with improvements to assure the overall structure and technical features are working correctly. And then we can train you to create and edit content that also assures compliance. In support of these standards we are in the process of making our site more accessible.