At Unity Web Agency, the phrase “web accessibility” comes up a lot. In fact, it’s something that is baked into our process.
From web development and design to marketing and social media, we’re always thinking about web accessibility and how it can be incorporated into every phase of our business.
We’ll actually spend hours discussing and dissecting the concept, searching for the perfect combination of functionality, personality, and accessibility when it comes to our websites or simply writing proper alt-text.
But before we can get into the “nitty-gritty” of web accessibility and some of the strategies we use, we need to ask ourselves this:
What exactly is web accessibility?
A Commitment to Inclusion
Let’s do some quick math.
Over 85% of the U.S. alone uses the internet, whether they’re using it to work, connect with friends, or further their professional development. That means of the 328.2 million people around the U.S, 279.9 million of them use the internet.
And that’s just the U.S. alone.
Now, think about the number of people who have a disability:
Every 1 in 5 people.
So when we look at the total number of people who use the internet, 55.9 million of them are disabled.
That’s a lot of people.
And because of these disabilities, not everyone can use the internet the same way. Some may not be able to hear, while others have a hard time seeing.
That’s where web accessibility comes in.
Web accessibility is the practice of eliminating barriers to access that people with disabilities encounter when using the internet. For example, if you’re entering a building, you might notice a ramp next to a set of stairs. Or if you’re going through a door, you might notice a button that automatically opens the door for you (you might have used this for yourself!).
Web accessibility aims to do the exact same thing but online.
When we think about web accessibility, we have to think about it in two ways:
Is there an adaptive strategy we can use?
Can we improve volume control and screen magnification right on the site?
Do users have an option to resize the browser window?
We want to make sure that when people use our sites, they have the ability to adapt them to their needs. We want to give users options, and the more they have, the better the chances our site is accessible.
What adaptive technologies do people utilize?
Are our users using a speech input system?
Do they have access to screen readers?
If our users require additional support through adaptive technology, we want to make sure our websites are able to fully work with what they choose to use.
By thinking about these two questions, we can start to create our strategy for building an inclusive and accessible website.
Like the various buildings we see, we want our websites to have the same “ramps” and “buttons” so anyone, regardless of disability, can enjoy our websites to the fullest.
Components of Accessibility
Once we’ve taken time to think about our two questions, we next want to focus on the different components of web accessibility.
As a whole, web accessibility can be a complex subject, so it’s important to break it down into smaller components. Not only will this make creating a site easier, but it also helps to map out your next steps simpler.
The clearer the direction, the clearer the goal.
The first, and arguably the most important, component of web accessibility is the people.
Like marketing, where you aim to learn more about your target audience through persona research, you want to take the time to understand the people you’re creating or optimizing your website for.
Are these individuals going through a temporary disability to their sight?
Do they have a permanent disability to their hearing?
Or are they disabled because of a specific situation, like their workplace environment?
It’s important to think about these things. Once you do, it’ll help make creating or optimizing your site for better accessibility easier.
Once you understand the people you’re creating for, you need to know the types of technology they use.
Is your site usable by screen readers?
Does the site consider switch controls and its travel time?
And alongside the types of tech that can be used, you also need to think about what types of tech your site has in place to make your website more accessible.
Can you increase the font size?
Is there a high contrast mode available to help make seeing a web page easier?
It’s often said that people with disabilities struggle to use technology, but it’s because sites aren’t using technology to make the lives of these people easier.
When you think about these tools and strategies early on, you’re able to create content or a website that is not only accessible to people with disabilities but for regular users as well via a more streamlined experience.
(You can learn about these two concepts in our first blog post — People and Digital Technology.)
Standards and Guidelines
Along with thinking about the people you’ll serve, the tech they use, and how to adapt your own tech to their needs, you also need to keep in consideration the standards and guidelines set by leading authorities within web accessibility and the internet as a whole.
Within web development and design, there are three guidelines you need to consider and adhere to, all of which was created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the trusted international organization for creating and reinforcing rules and standards for the internet:
- Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG): the WCAG is the most trusted guide for web accessibility, with thousands of devs and designers using it as a guide. The guide is consistently updated every few years, with the most recent update being in 2018. The guide is best for devs, designers, writers, and audio/video producers.
- Authority Tool Accessibility Guide (ATAG): the ATAG provides guidelines for writers to create authoring tools that are more accessible to authors with disabilities and to help said authors create, share, and promote more accessible content. This guide is primarily used for individuals that create authoring tools such as Google Docs, WordPress, and Facebook.
- User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG): the UAAG is primarily used for individuals who create products that render web content. This includes products such as web browsers (Google Chrome), extensions, media players, and readers. Along with making these products more accessible, the guide will also help said products properly communicate with other pieces of technology.
Although our series is primarily focused on the WCAG, it’s worth looking through the ATAG and the UAAG as well, especially if you’re creating content or products that are more directly related to them.
When piecing these components together, you’ll be well on your way to creating a more inclusive website, accessible content, and making the internet a more inviting space for all.
Whether you have questions about any of the concepts discussed, interested in our process, or want to say hey, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’d love to chat with you on how we can continue to be a stronger a11y.