Author: Shawn Ewert, Business Analyst

If you are reading this article right now, chances are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 1 that you are reading it without the use of any kind of assistive technologies. That’s great, but what about the other 15% of Internet users? How does their Internet experience differ, and why should brands be concerned about how their websites are perceived by those users? For most people, surfing the Web is an activity taken for granted. For people with disabilities, however, the Internet can be an inhospitable place.

According to Prevent Blindness America, 53.2 million Americans aged 45 or older have some form of visual impairment, from mild to severe, and about 18% of those affected are “legally blind.”

Additionally, about 20% of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. At age 65, one out of every three people has a hearing loss.

As online marketers and technologists, it is our job to recognize the diversity of the online community and make every effort to provide excellent experiences for every website user. It is especially important for any brands that depend on customers to make their website a success. Click Here Labs is committed to making it a priority to create online solutions for the widest possible audience, regardless of circumstance and ability.

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Braille Keyboard Tablet

What Is Web Accessibility?

Simply put, web accessibility is the practice of developing websites in a way that removes barriers of interaction for individuals with visual, aural and cognitive disabilities. For the Internet to be a tool for all users, it is essential to develop websites in a way that provides equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities.

In addition to making the Internet available to those with sensory disabilities, it also strives for social inclusion for people whose access may be limited by age or geography. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities itself recognizes access to information and communications technologies, including the Internet, as a basic human right.

Says Who?

Because of the large number of opinions and “experts” on the subject, wading through the waters of web accessibility can be confusing. Best practices pertaining to web accessibility can come from many sources, but when it comes to the standards set for the industry, there are two main authorities of information: the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The W3C is an international community that works to develop standards for the long-term growth of the Internet. Its position on accessibility is to provide guidelines for developers to utilize when creating content and websites for the Internet. These standards come together in three levels of conformance in increasing degrees of specificity. Level A standards are the baseline that a website must conform to in order to be considered in compliance with web accessibility. Level AA and Level AAA standards take those set forth in Level A and add increasingly stringent definition and granularity.

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Color Blindness Example

These standards are largely based on the legal requirements set forth in Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This section of the law requires the federal government to ensure the websites it develops and maintains are accessible to individuals with disabilities. While this does not pertain specifically to nongovernmental websites, the standards put in place are a robust set of guidelines used to define accessibility.

Why Should I Care?

There is a strong business case for making sure your website is accessible. Accessibility overlaps with other best practices, such as mobile-friendly web design, device independence, usability and Shawn 3search engine optimization. Studies have shown that accessible websites have a higher return in search results, reduced maintenance costs and an overall increased audience reach. By having baseline standards in place, we are able to more easily manage the social, technical and financial benefits of our web presence.

An accessible website is often the easiest way to do business with many people with disabilities. Often, people who cannot read print material or people who have difficulty getting to a physical store are lost streams of revenue for many brands. By providing a website that takes these disabilities into account, brands are able to offer a seamless experience to their differently abled customers, while benefitting all of their customers.

How Do I Conform?

For a website to conform to the WCAG accessibility standards, the site must satisfy the criteria for all 12 guidelines under one of the three conformance levels: A, AA or AAA. While conformance to these standards does not serve as a guarantee against a discrimination lawsuit, it does offer a solid indication that the website owner has done their due diligence to ensure that their site is available to all customers equally.

Web accessibility is ultimately about designing websites so that they are flexible and adaptable to meet users’ needs. When websites are well designed, they will work with assistive technology, such as screen readers that read aloud what’s on the screen for people who are blind or have other print disabilities, screen magnification software for people with some types of low vision, and mouth sticks or head sticks for people who cannot use their arms. Most current web browsers offer some form of built-in accessibility tools or extensions that can be added to make overall web browsing easier for those with disabilities.

As we move forward technologically, we are doing more and more of our shopping online. Brands continue to overhaul their brick-and-mortar stores in larger numbers into warehousing for their online sales, and the online dollar becomes exponentially more important. This should be hammering home the idea that brands are dealing, more now than ever, with people who have traditionally had barriers in terms of online interaction. Making the right impression and giving all customers a fulfilling online experience cannot be ignored. Ensuring all customers are engaged and able to navigate your website, regardless of any disabilities, leads to the loyalty and continued revenue everyone is in search of.