Remember when designing a Web site was all about the cool factor? The more Flash and animation, the better. But then, as Web design became more sophisticated, the user became the primary focus. Usability, user experience, and user-centered design (UCD) became the phrases of the day, and personas were created to represent typical users.
But let me ask you this: How many of those personas are people who have a visual impairment, or someone who can’t use a mouse? In other words, how many of those personas have disabilities?
Designing sites so that users with disabilities can use them with ease is known as accessibility.
Aside from the fact that creating accessible Web sites is the right thing to do, I’ll give you a few of other compelling reasons why you should be thinking about your site’s accessibility:
1. The law
While it’s not against the law for your site to be inaccessible to people with disabilities, there are laws against discrimination. You may have heard of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Law, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. There have been costly lawsuits involving several high profile companies, where users have alleged discrimination because they were unable to navigate the site due to their physical disabilities.
2. It could be you (or someone you love)
Here’s the thing: We’re all getting older, and for most that means our eyesight is getting worse. According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired. So although it may not be you today, it could be you or your mother or uncle.
3. Lost revenue
By not making your site accessible to ALL users, you are leaving a group of consumers behind that might turn out to be loyal customers.
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then your site is probably accessible.
Can I resize the text on my site? As mentioned earlier, as we age, we sometimes need to see larger text on a screen. Make sure that your text size can be adjusted.
Does my site still make sense if I turn off images? It can be a pretty eye-opening (no pun intended) experience for sighted users to see what’s left of their site without images. Now think of a blind person using the Web with a screen reader (a tool that reads the screen text aloud). Would the page still make sense if you couldn’t see the images?
Do my images have alt-text? If it’s an image with a call to action or in some other way intrinsic to the content, make sure it’s got alt-text so that a screen reader can identify it. It it’s not important to the overall content, the alt=”null” or alt=”0” tag is preferable so the screen reader skips over it.
Do my forms have keyboard focus? The form field should display a dotted line or other indicator that you are in that form field.
Does my site have pop-ups, drop downs, mouse-overs? These nifty design elements are not always very accessible.
Is video on my site understandable without sound? Make sure your videos include subtitles or closed captioning. YouTube does a great job with this.
So what can you do to ensure that your site is accessible for users with disabilities?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guideline known as WCAG (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a standard that was implemented to level the playing field on the Web for all users. The WCAG is a great resource for learning how to create sites that pass the accessibility test and for resources on how to code sites for accessibility, including links to downloadable developer tools.
Bonus benefit: not only is it the right thing to do, you will probably increase your SEO rankings when you increase the focus on text to accommodate for accessibility. It’s a win-win for everyone.