Technology June 3, 2011 Last updated June 3rd, 2011 2,123 Reads share

Website Accessibility: Why Bother?

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An accessible website is the one that anyone can access and can easily use, including those with disabilities. It would be fair to say that while most business want their website to be ‘user friendly’. Accessibility is not at the top of their agenda. In all of the years I have been developing business websites, no company has ever requested accessibility as part of their website brief. It is often part of the brief for public sector websites but even then this is usually a result of a legal requirement or the aim of achieving an award.

Making a website accessible can mean extra effort on behalf of the web designer and the organisation behind the site. To achieve great accessibility though, all types of end user need to be considered and catered for, from those with visual impairments who may use a screen reader to read your website’s text, to users with motor skill difficulties and intellectual disabilities. This can add extra cost to the project which many businesses are not willing to pay especially since the return on investment may not be immediately obvious. Given the extra cost and effort…

Why should a business consider having accessibility as part of their website brief?

  1. If your business has a social conscious and states that it cares about it’s social responsibility, then incorporating some accessible features is worth considering. These can then be listed in an accessibility statement on your website.
  2. You may think that your target customers do not have disabilities but when you think of all of the different types of disability then chances are that a certain percentage of them do. For example, most of them will not be totally blind, but many of your customers may have poor vision or be colour blind and will not want to work with you if they can’t use your website.
  3. A website designed for people with disabilities will also be very accessible to everyone else, allowing your site to reach a wider audience.
  4. Many accessibility features also have good cross over with other important considerations like cross browser and cross device compatibility. For example many experts don’t recommend the use of Flash, as screen readers can’t read the content in a Flash site and people with certain disabilities can find moving content hard to focus on or interpret. Similarly a Flash site won’t display at all on the iPhone or iPad so by meeting this accessibility requirement you are making a site that will ultimately be seen by more people. I have come across a few sites lately that because they are built entirely in Flash don’t display at all on the iPhone or iPad.
  5. Accessibility forces you to think about the end user. Often business managers want to include a particular item on their website such as animation or a video because they think it will look impressive or because the competition has it on their website. If they have to consider ‘Is that Accessible?’ it forces them to stop and think about how the end user will perceive the content. If it does not enhance the site for the end user then why would you add it to your website?

If accessibility is part of your website brief from the beginning then it is a lot easier and cost effective to achieve than trying to make an existing site accessible.

In website accessibility – Part 2, I will guide you through some of the features you can add to your site to ensure it is accessible, as well as giving tips on how you can check the accessibility of your website. In the meantime The Centre For Excellence in Universal Design is a great resource.

Beatrice Whelan

Beatrice Whelan

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