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An important aspect of delivering a great user experience is ensuring that your website is accessible for people with disabilities or impairments. Web developers must provide alternative methods to access their content and ensure that no one is left out.
Try to browse through this website with your eyes closed. How would you be able to navigate and understand what this page is about? This would be an impossible task without the use of additional software. People with disabilities like visual impairments can browse and understand the content of a website by using assistive technologies like screen readers or Braille watches/printers, etc.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61 million adults in the United States live with a type of disability.
Web accessibility is vital because you want to offer all audiences a way to consume your content. Additionally, it can help with bettering SEO. Although Google has stated that accessibility is not a ranking factor, it is one of the most important metrics on their website audit tools. In some cases, it’s mandated by law.
What does A11y Stand For?
A11y is a “numeronym” (a number-based word) for the word “accessibility.” The 11 stands for the letters between the “a” and the “y”, similar to i18n for internationalization. This abbreviation is also used as a form of activism to push for an internet more accessible and friendly to people with disabilities.
Screen readers are assistive software for people with disabilities, mostly used by people with vision impairments. Most screen readers interpret text, images, and HTML elements, such as headings, navigation, and tables, and render the information as speech or Braille.
In the following YouTube video, you can watch a demo of how screen readers work:
Here’s a list of some popular screen readers for different operating systems:
- BRLTTY (Windows/Linux/Android)
- NVDA (Windows)
- VoiceOver (Mac OS X 10.4 and later)
- Google Screen Reader (Web-powered screen reader extension for Google Chrome)
- Dolphin Screen Reader (Windows)
Some of them are free, and some others offer premium features with an additional cost. If you wish to take a quick tour of how to use a Screen Reader, we advise you to install the Google Screen Reader extension.
Is My Website Required to Be Accessible by Law?
ADA Standards for Accessible Design is a law that protects people with disabilities. It is a series of regulations to guarantee equal opportunity for all users.
Websites that are operated by federal agencies must make their information and services accessible to persons with disabilities under the Section 508 Standards.
“2019 was a big deal for Accessibility, after the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, No. 17-55504 (9th Cir. 2019) in January 2019, holding that the ADA applies to websites and apps.”
Related article: The Law of a Law Firm Website
ADA compliance is required if your website falls into any of these categories:
- Government organizations
- Organizations with more than 15 employees
- Public entities that offer goods and services
- Businesses under ADA Title III
To make sure that your website is ADA compliant, you must:
- Make your website conformant with the WCAG 2.1 AA technical standards
- Publish an Accessibility statement (Optional)
Resources for Web Developers
There are two relevant resources that help developers design accessible websites:
- Section 508 Standards, and
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), which is divided into three levels:
- Level A: Only some users can access your website
- Level AA: Almost all users can access your website (the most popular)
- Level AAA: All users can access your website
Here is a list of items to keep in mind:
- The correct use of the semantic HTML, tags, and attributes that help with accessibility.
- The use of ARIA HTML attributes.
- Images should include an alt text tag, describing the subject of the image, and captions if necessary.
- Video captions and transcripts, since the use of in-frame text not only helps screen readers understand the contents of the video, but also helps search engine crawlers.
- Descriptive link text: hyperlink a descriptive text of the contents of the link to remove ambiguity. It’s also good for SEO.
- Make sure that you don’t have any contrast issues with tools like the AXE extension or the Color Contrast Analyzer.
- Forms and Tables should be accessible.
- Documents: make sure to include alternative formats that are more friendly for users with disabilities, like text-based or HTML versions.
How Can I Run an Accessibility Audit?
There are several services that help us run accessibility audits. Some of them are:
- PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse: these tools provide a score and suggestions to improve the website accessibility.
- The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool: a very intuitive and easy to use tool to help developers find accessibility problems. Chrome and Firefox extensions are also offered free of charge.
- You can use the AXE DevTools Extension (Chrome/Firefox), which is free and a great help during development or debugging processes.
- A11ycasts: Google video fundamentals for accessibility
- WebAIM: Web accessibility evaluation, training, and consulting services and products
- (WCAG) 2.1: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1
- AFB: The American Foundation for the Blind
- Accessibility for Teams: Accessibility for front-end developers
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
In many cases, the main purpose of a website is to receive visits. Developers need to make sure that everyone is able to access a website and understand the information in it. With a well-structured website, you also get the benefit of the SEO that comes with enriching the HTML source code with attributes that become handy for both users using assistive technologies and search engine crawlers like Googlebot. Essentially, ensuring that your site is accessible streamlines the user experience, as well as providing you with additional SEO value.