What is Accessibility?
The official definition of ‘accessibility’ is a good starting point for this blog, which aims to help you to understand how good website accessibility can benefit your business online.
Cambridge Dictionary says:
The fact of being able to be reached or obtained easily
The quality of being easy to understand
It’s clear as day why both of these definitions are imperative for any website. ‘Reached or obtained easily’ – yes, of course. If the website is not easily found, it is not easily visited. ‘The quality of being easy to understand’ – a website that doesn’t communicate properly will be ineffective.
Let’s also set one thing straight here – when we talk about accessibility, we’re not only thinking about people with disabilities. We’re talking about anyone who encounters an issue with accessibility – including environmental or technological issues (sun glare or dated browsers respectively, for example).
Real World vs Digital World
When we look at accessibility in the ‘real World’, eg, town centres, a library or a bus, it’s incredibly easy to visualise accessibility features and issues, and therefore easy to understand the impact. A bus without ample space means people with wheelchairs can’t get on. Aside from being unfair to people in wheelchairs, the bus will also suffer by losing out on custom. The extra space not only benefits wheelchair users… everyone will benefit from and appreciate more room on the bus. Accessible design that benefits everyone is known as ‘universal design’ – and is the underlying design philosophy for huge construction projects like town centres, and also things like supermarkets and cinemas.
However, it’s not at all easy to define, spot and fix accessibility features and issues on a website. The most important thing initially is to understand that they absolutely do exist, and that they have as large an impact on your business as a broken lift would have to 100 story building.
Websites should be accessible for people with physical, cognitive, environmental or technological barriers. We don’t need to question why on a social level, but to question why from a strictly business perspective is understandable – and the answers are quite interesting.
What actually makes a website accessible?
This is something we’re asked a lot. There are a lot of technicalities to websites, of course, and they can all be done well or badly. Doing them well means a website is accessible. Doing them badly means it’s not accessible. Below are some examples of common issues we encounter.
- Light grey font on top of a white background, for example, is hard to read.
- Certain combinations of colour (reds and greens most commonly) will be challenging for people with colorblindness.
- Font size falls into this category. Small font sizes are hard to read.
- A page should be given a structure in terms of text headings and content – each piece of copy should be labeled with a tag that represents its place in the hierarchy of content. The main page title would be h1, the next one down would be 2h, sub-headers beneath that would be h3, h4 etc.
- Navigation should be properly labelled.
- Images should be assigned some ‘alternative text’ that explains what a picture represents and is read out to people by screen readers, or displayed in the case of images not loading.
- Copy should be written in a way that is not too difficult to understand.
- UX copy (for example, the words on a button like ‘sign up’ or ‘send’) should be carefully considered to support the context.
- An ‘ARIA’ (Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite) role, state or property should be included in the code to further help people who use assistive technologies.
- Image sizes should be optimised.
How ‘bad accessibility’ is damaging your business
Quite often a website will seem ‘fine’ to the majority of its users who don’t regularly encounter accessibility issues themselves. If there are issues ‘under the hood’ though, here are some ways it will impact your business.
Your SEO is worse
This is one we always open with at networking events! Here’s the fact: Google reads your website the same way a ‘screen reader’ does (a screen reader is a piece of assistive technology that reads pages out to people who need verbal assistance). Therefore, if the website is not built in a way that a screen reader can make sence of, Google won’t make sense of it either. Why is this important? Google will punish your website with a bad SEO score if it can not read the pages properly. Good accessibility = good SEO.
Fewer people can use your website
If a website is hard or annoying to use, the visitor will close the page and never come back. Roughly 20% of people have a disability. If the website doesn’t address these – that’s a potential 20% of sales you’re turning away (not forgetting other accessibility issues such as environmental and technological). The value of the ‘Purple Pound’ is estimated at 212 billion pounds.
Lower conversion rates
‘Universal design’ means making things accessible for everyone. A website which follows accessibility protocols will mean every single visitor benefits from a website that is easier to use, more effective, easier to find. All of this seriously improves your conversion rates. Businesses with accessible websites convert more sales.
At risk of legal action against you
Cases of businesses being fined for inaccessible websites is getting more common. This is because governments began to mandate laws to support people with access issues to participate in online activity. Some can complain about a website being inaccessible, and the knowledge that something will happen as a result is becoming recognised. Businesses can lose significant money through fines and legal fees.
Don’t take our word for it
See what other people are saying about accessibility below.
Many organisations are waking up to the fact that embracing accessibility leads to multiple benefits – reducing legal risks, strengthening brand presence, improving customer experience and colleague productivity.
Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays
Accessibility is a core value at Apple and something we view as a basic human right.
Sarah Herrlinger, Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives, Apple
The accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow.
Eve Andersson, Director, Accessibility Engineering, Google
At Barclays, accessibility is about more than just disability. It’s about helping everyone to work, bank and live their lives regardless of their age, situation, abilities or circumstances.
Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays
Designing inclusive software results in improved usability and customer satisfaction.
Microsoft’s app developer guide
For more information about accessibility, or to book a call with one of our team – email firstname.lastname@example.org