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What is Website Accessibility (and Why it Matters)

Website accessibility is a major topic for businesses across the U.S., and for good reason. Just like wheelchair ramps and disabled access in public restrooms in a physical building, an inaccessible website can pose problems for both disabled users and (legal ones) for your company. Let’s break down what it means to make your website accessible and why it’s important to follow website accessibility standards.

What is Web Accessibility?

Website accessibility makes it possible for people with various disabilities to shop, research, and do whatever else people do online. Sites, tools, and other online technologies are considered accessible if they are designed and developed so that everyone can use them. That collective group includes people who have difficulty accessing online sources because of the following types of disabilities.

  • Auditory
  • Cognitive
  • Neurological
  • Physical
  • Speech
  • Visual

Unfortunately, the vast majority of websites aren’t accessible. Roughly 98 percent of home pages are legally non-compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Without certain implementations, these noncompliant websites can be as useful to people with disabilities as screen doors on a submarine – and it’s important to make sure yours isn’t one of them.

What are the Existing Website Accessibility Standards?

Since the Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled that websites are places of public accommodation back in 2018, sites, tool, and other publicly-accessible technologies must comply with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The exact requirements are currently left to the courts and state legislatures, but experts project that the DOJ will eventually follow the rules set by the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG). These guidelines are managed by international web standards group W3C and require accessible websites to meet a few key principles.

  • Perceivable – All users must be able to perceive presented information (text alternatives, captions, etc.).
  • Operable – All users must be able to navigate a site and operate the interface (added keyboard functionality, ease of finding and reading content, etc.).
  • Understandable – All users must be able to understand the operation of the user interface and how it’s operated (readable text, the ability to find and correct mistakes, etc.).
  • Robust – All content must be accessible to assistive technologies (compatibility with future tools, etc.).

As you may expect, the WCAG provides specific rules to help businesses websites maintain accessibility. For a more thorough breakdown of these requirements, check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

Why Business Website Accessibility is Critical for Success

While website accessibility is an important goal to help more people use the internet, it also has a direct impact on a business’ digital success. Accessible websites can both help a business grow online and protect a company from legal concerns. Here are three critical reasons to make your website accessible.

Website accessibility is a legal necessity

Accessibility compliance is no longer optional. In the U.S., it’s a mandatory requirement listed in the ADA and companies that fail to comply pay the price. Here’s a sampling of some notable samples of when the law fought for digital accessibility.

While the aforementioned companies are bigger than your average bear, that doesn’t mean the law only applies to massive corporations. According to accessibility law resource Seyfarth, plaintiffs filed at least 814 federal lawsuits about allegedly inaccessible websites in 2017 alone. That number rose to 10,206 in the first 11 months of 2019, an increase of over 1,153 percent from 2017 to 2019. Accessibility noncompliance isn’t a matter of if it’ll hurt your company, it’s when.

Website accessibility benefits your business

Making your online presence more accessible does more than just get the law off your back, it’s also good for business. By ignoring accessibility standards, you miss out on a large portion of an audience. Fortunately, an accessible website can help your business in a couple of ways.

Accessibility grows your potential audience

Want to inspire disabled users to give you their money? Make your site accessible. According to the U.K.’s Click Away Pound Report, 71 percent of disabled users with access needs click away from a website when they experience difficulty accessing it.

The same study showed that these lost users had an estimated spending power of £11.75 billion, which then equated to roughly $15 billion. In addition, over 80 percent of those same customers would spend their money on websites that had fewer barriers for them, not necessarily on websites that had a cheaper product or service.

Adding accessibility improvements doesn’t change anything for your current customers who do not have disabilities, but they can and will attract new customers to improve traffic and conversions. Improving your online accessibility shows these individuals that you value their business – and they’ll be more likely to give you their money in return.

Accessibility benefits your SEO

Improving accessibility isn’t just good for humans. Writing clean, accessible code makes it easier for search engines robots to crawl a site.

Search engines treat websites with well-structured code better because they’re able to gather more information. In fact, many of the same factors Google uses to judge your site just so happen to be methods that can make your site more accessible. These include:

  • Adding meta descriptions and page titles.
  • Using descriptive alt texts for your images.
  • Utilizing the correct header tags.
  • Following color contrast rules for improved readability.
  • Ensuring content is machine readable.
  • Providing descriptive link text.

Accessibility can increase traffic, decrease bounce rates, and improve sales from a community of people that are often overlooked. The better your SEO is, the more users you gain on your site. The more qualified users you gain, the more conversions you receive. When it comes to the bottom line, embracing accessibility really has no downside.

Website accessibility affects more people than you know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 26 percent of the U.S. population – about 61 million adults – live with some form of disability. Disabilities can come in many forms and need to be treated with the same level and consideration as any other consumer.

We often forget that there are many different types of disabilities. Sometimes they’re temporary, like an employee who broke her arm and still needs to shop online. Other times, they’re permanent, like a blind user who is just trying to figure out a store’s hours online.

It’s important to remember that accessibility extends beyond just those with diagnosed disabilities. From 2009 to 2014, mobile screen reader usage went from 12 to 82 percent, and not just because of people with visual impairments. Whether it’s someone with dyslexia or an older individual who has trouble staring at displays, screen readers are becoming increasingly important.

For years, designers and developers have focused on making websites responsive and providing a good user experience on mobile devices. Making sites and apps machine readable is a part of that now.

Embrace Website Accessibility

Accessibility has several benefits, including reducing legal risks, strengthening your reputation as a brand or business, improving your SEO, and bettering your user experience. People with disabilities are a notable part of that potential consumer base with more than $544 billion in disposable spending power. Implementing changes to make your website more accessible will only increase your popularity within a community of people that are oftentimes ignored – especially by your competition.

Aside from the financial benefits of website accessibility, it's also the right thing to do. With a few changes that will just so happen to help your business, you can make life a little less difficult for a large segment of the world’s population. With equal access, everyone wins.

Are you ready to make your website more accessible or need a new website altogether? As a full-service digital agency, Aztek's team of web designers and developers have the expertise to help you build fast-loading, quality websites with your entire audience in mind. Contact us today to talk to our team about your web design and development needs.