Businesses can no longer afford to ignore the importance of web accessibility, by Hilary Stephenson of Sigma.
Web accessibility is about breaking down the barriers that inhibit those with disabilities from accessing or contributing to the internet. It’s an assurance that regardless of ability or disability, whether that’s cognitive, auditory, visual or physical, no one is discriminated against or deprived of the opportunity to benefit from the internet.
The importance of creating accessible digital products and services is finally being more widely recognised, which is reassuring in context of the fact Britain has an ageing population. The latest figures from Government show that the population’s average age is over 40 for the first time ever. And, with an ageing population, comes the unsurprising increase in the number of people with impairments –The Papworth Trust reports that the societal group most affected by a disability of some sort is those over the state pension age.
Clearly then, it would make business sense to create a digital offering that is accessible so that a company’s products or services can reach as many people as possible. And yet, not every website is accessible – largely as a result of misconceptions about what accessibility is and the effort required to create accessible products and services.
Debunking myths around accessibility
When we discuss creating more accessible websites, we hear the same misconceptions repeatedly – it’s high time we debunked some of these mistruths to encourage more businesses to incorporate accessibility.
“Web accessibility only caters for a small minority with no other benefits”
Firstly, those living with disabilities are not a ‘small minority’. For instance, did you know that currently there are two million people are living with sight loss in the UK? And that this figure is set to double by 2050? In recognising this, it becomes clear that more accessible websites are actually catering for a growing group. We must also bear in mind that accessible websites make it easier for those with temporary or progressive conditions whose needs can change or vary over time.
We see accessibility differently at Sigma; it’s our belief that we should always design for the 5%, because a website will then be usable by those with disabilities and those without. In fact, we hold a conference every year in Manchester called Camp Digital to bring together the latest industry thinking and to get better insights about how we can make the web a more usable, accessible and inclusive space for everyone. Accessibility is a burning issue – each year, a growing number of people are telling us that technology needs to play a bigger part in helping to enhance the lives of those affected by a disability.
“Web accessibility is costly and difficult to implement”
When it comes to accessibility, and the requirements needing to be met, people often think it sounds like an expensive, complicated process to undertake. But, it’s important to remember that the upfront cost is often modest, and that it leads to a significant return on investment – with the right help and guidance, you can create an accessible website that’s easier to run, and that reaches a wider audience. And, with the ageing population, and rising number of people with disabilities, it makes commercial sense to cater to as many people as possible. Why would you alienate almost 20% of the population when it’s comparatively easy and inexpensive to get this right?
“Making a website more accessible will make it less attractive”
There’s a widely-held misconception that websites which are accessible are less aesthetically-pleasing – this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the visual design of a website should remain unaffected when creating accessible content for those using different devices or who have differing skills and abilities. The Apple website is a great example of how you can have a visually-pleasing website that is also accessible to all.
Making a more accessible website
Now that we’ve debunked some of the myths floating around, we can look at some of the practical ways that businesses can incorporate more accessibility into their online presence and cater for those with a number of different types of disability.
If a visitor to your website is deaf, or hard of hearing, your site content should be written in plain English, while video or audio content should come with subtitles. For those with impaired vision, it’s important that all information is published on web pages (HTML) and content should be presented in a readable text size. When it comes to users with a physical or motor disabilities, websites should use large, clickable interactive elements that are not bunched together or that demand precision. Users who have autism should be presented with a website that uses simple colours, descriptive buttons, with a consistent and straightforward layout that avoids using any bright colours.
Ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to access the internet, to make a contribution, or use services, should be recognised as a right – rather than a privilege reserved only for those without disabilities. What’s more, beyond the equality and social responsibility argument, it makes commercial sense too – why cut yourself off from such a large number of potential customers? Creating accessible websites will only become even more important in years to come, so get involved or risk falling behind.
If you’re interested in finding out more about accessibility, and why it matters, you can contact us directly or attend Camp Digital in May. More information here: http://www.wearesigma.com/campdigital/2017/
Hilary Stephenson is the managing director of digital user experience (UX) agency, Sigma.