Why We Should Be Prioritizing Digital Accessibility
Website accessibility is important, but where do you start? Our UX designer, Nilu breaks down common myths about digital accessibility and explains how you can make your online content available to everyone.
By Nilu Seneviratne
I’ll be the first to admit that up until about three years ago, I hadn’t paid much attention to the accessibility of a website. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it, it just wasn’t top of mind when thinking of website design. I was actually an advocate for the need to make physical spaces like buildings, parking lots, and shopping malls accessible. I expected physical spaces to be accessible, and if they weren’t, I almost shamed them. However, when it came to websites, that advocacy and expectation wasn’t there. A lack of education around digital accessibility made me think that websites couldn’t be fully accessible to everyone, but boy, was I wrong (and dare I say, naive).
Over the last few years, the tech space has taken an even greater initiative to educate designers, developers, and consumers on the accessibility of websites and apps. As we have learned more about it, accessibility has become a top priority during the design phase of the websites we make at Innovate By Day. Once we understood the importance of digital accessibility, we committed to two things: (1) Making every website we design as accessible as possible, and (2) Sharing knowledge to help others make their websites accessible too. Here’s some of what we’ve learned.
What makes a website “accessible”? When it comes to websites, accessibility is about giving everyone access to the same information. That means designing a site that can be used by people with one or more of a variety of disabilities, including auditory, visual, cognitive, and mobility.
Now, let’s look at WHY accessibility is important in the tech space.
The internet is a primary source of information now
The trap that I fell into before was that I didn’t consider the internet as a primary source of information, especially for people with disabilities. Consider online shopping: I made an unfair assumption that if a person with a disability found a website inaccessible, it wouldn't matter because it wasn’t a primary source of information—meaning they could either call or go to a physical store instead. But the whole point of digital accessibility is that if a person without a disability can get the products or information they need online without having to travel to a brick-and-mortar business, people with disabilities should have the same option. COVID-19 has forced a lot of businesses to fully function online and take digital accessibility into serious consideration—making it possible for the internet to be a primary source of information, entertainment and communication for all people including people with impairments.
We have a legal obligation to make websites accessible
As a Designer, it is my legal obligation to make sure that our client’s website meets the standards laid out by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA is a great resource if you are trying to make your website more accessible but don’t know where to start. https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-websites-accessible
Attract new customers
For the Innovate By Day team, accessibility is also about empathy. It’s about understanding the hurdles others may have and trying our best to level the playing field. At the end of the day, making your website accessible to all people gives you access to a whole new group of customers. Being accessible won’t turn away your existing customers, but it will attract new ones, increasing revenues as a result. It’s a win-win situation! I can't think of any business or website owner who would turn that down.
Improved reputation for your business
Website owners who don’t continue to improve their website’s accessibility will end up with a website that feels outdated and out of touch, especially as we move into a more aware and considerate society. Website accessibility is not only healthy for your brand and business but it also looks good on you. It shows that you understand your customers’ needs, and that their business is valuable to you. This will help boost website traffic and eventually conversion rates.
So, how exactly do we go about making websites more accessible for our clients? Here are four ways we can make your website more accessible.
Some ways that we tackle accessibility issues:
- Using contrast checkers. Not everyone sees colour the same way, so poor contrast can make parts of your website invisible to some users. A contrast checker lets you test out spaces, text, and other elements on websites to make sure that they can be seen by people with visual impairments, like low vision, or colour blindness. We actually made a small change to our own visual branding to make our website and marketing materials more accessible.
- Placing Alt text. Placing an alt text simply means tagging website images with descriptive text for users with sight loss. This helps users who use screen readers know what the image contains, because the screen reader will read the alt text description to them. Fun fact: alt text also helps improve the SEO of your website, so you’re hitting two birds with one stone! Twitter has added an option for placing alt text on images on their platform, and some savvy users are including alt text in their Facebook and Instagram messages to make sure that they’re getting the message to their entire audience.
- Make Video and Multimedia Accessible. Videos with sound may present barriers for users with auditory impairments. SRT, which stands for “SubRip Subtitle” is the most commonly used subtitle or caption file format. At Innovate By Day, we have multiple team members who are trained in making SRT files to make sure your video content is accessible. This isn’t just important for people with hearing loss; on social and video sharing platforms, video captions give viewers a better idea about your content even when they’re scrolling with the sound off. And SRT files can also be crawled by search engines, so the content of your videos can actually contribute to better SEO.
- Use Descriptive URLs. Have you ever come across a website page and noticed that the end of the URL is all code and “gibberish”? Imagine using a screen reader and having to hear the gibberish! When a visually impaired user navigates through a site, the screen reader describes the page they have landed on using the URL. For their sake, we want to make sure that the end of every page’s URL on a website is a descriptive one and not code. A simple example would be: https://innovatebyday.ca/contact/
If you’re looking to make your website more accessible, I commend you for taking an empathetic approach to connecting with your potential customers and clients. It’s a process, but it’s easier than you might think. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about our accessibility and website packages.