Most people take for granted that all of the many things they do and accomplish online: purchase items, attend college, make reservations at restaurants or hotels, watch videos, write posts on social media, and comment on blogs. There are many people, though, who cannot access the web because of a disability or other condition. The internet was created so that no matter where you are, who you are, or when you use it, the access is the same for each person across the globe. But most websites were designed with an average target customer in mind, and the truth is that there are many people who don’t have the functionality to access them. This has recently become a point of legal contention as individuals with disabilities have been inadvertently denied access to inaccessible websites.
What Makes Websites Difficult For Visitors
User interface designers have an understanding of the various reasons why people are unable to use the internet and keep those in mind as they design. Top designers have worked with healthcare experts to understand the exceptional needs of some people in their communities to ensure that technologies developed with them in mind are useful and effective. Some of the conditions they have examined include:
- Visual: People who are blind, or have impaired vision, or who are color blind will have difficulty interacting with or using the internet.
- Auditory: Videos are becoming the next big thing in marketing and social media. Videos going viral get discussed even in media. So, when people who are hearing impaired try to watch them, they will not be able to understand the words.
- Cognitive: People with certain learning disabilities or genetic conditions, such as Fragile X Syndrome or Down Syndrome, may find the internet difficult to use. Sites can be optimized for people with dyslexia to have an easier time with reading text on screens.
- Neurological: People with epilepsy may find that screens or content triggers seizures.
- Physical: People who have difficulty using a mouse or a touchscreen run the gamut from young children using educational sites, those with conditions such as Cerebral Palsy or Parkinson’s Disease or muscular dystrophy, a broken arm due to injury, or limited mobility due to a stroke.
- Age: Elderly users of the internet might find it progressively more difficult to use the internet if websites are not optimized to be usable by those with arthritis and other difficulties using their hands or voice.
How To Make Your Website More Accessible
Now that you understand the various types of challenges people can have when trying to access the web, as well as their reasons for wanting to use it, it’s time to get proactive and start checking your own website.
Should you use an automatic checker? Experts say yes, but with a catch. There are some websites that will test your website and assess it for its accessibility. However, you will want to test your site manually since many of these automated checkers miss important things that only a human can notice. They’re always good to get a baseline, and because your manual check may miss something, but you don’t want to rely on only using automatic checkers.
Evaluation of Accessibility
Now that you’ve decided to take a look at your own website with a pair of human eyes, ears, and senses, it’s time to think about what to look for. Some things to look out for include:
- The alt text that goes along with images: Don’t just check if there is any alt text, but also ensure that it is written well and accurately.
- Text reading your site with a screen reader: Listen to whether or not a screen reader is clear and precise in a way that would make sense to a human being. For example, if there are subpages under a page header in a menu, then it should be clear to the listener that they are subpages. Also, listen to how the reader explains forms. Do they prompt the listener to “enter” information, or just read the information? The listener needs to have literal and intentional language so they can click on the correct links and fill in the correct information.
- Coloring: Making sure that colors show up with the right amount of contrast is something that you will want to not only text with your eyes, but use programs and tools to ensure that in the mobile version or on different screens the text doesn’t somehow get moved over an image, thus changing the contrast and making it difficult to read.
How To Check Manually
Especially if you’re an able-bodied person who has never been diagnosed with a neurological or cognitive impairment, you will have to role-play a bit and imagine yourself as someone who doesn’t have the benefit of the context or having seen your sight before. Some experts suggest doing things to help you be more objective, such as closing your eyes to listen to a screen reader to hear if it makes as much sense without visual clues as you intended, for example.
You can also bring someone else into the room who has not seen your websites, such as a friend or a colleague from another department. They won’t have the benefit of prior knowledge of what your site looks like, so they may also pick up on things that could frustrate someone if they’re not corrected.
Section 508 Compliance
The Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits the discrimination of any person by a federal program or agency on the basis of a physical disability. As with all laws, this one can be broken down into individual parts with each explained in detail. One of the areas examined was the accessibility of information technology and programs, such as software programs. In the 508th section of the amendments, it mandates that all of these programs and technologies that are created, used, maintained or updated by the Federal Government must be usable by anyone with a disability without additional strain or at a disadvantage from someone without a disability.
When you are evaluating your website manually or with a checker, you will want to ensure you are 508 compliant. This is an especially important item on your checklist.
People Without Disabilities Also Benefit
People without disabilities may take for granted their internet access. Think of the millions of people alone who have turned to the web to earn a college or graduate degree worldwide. But when students can continue taking classes even after suffering a broken wrist, for example, or eye surgery, then they have benefitted from accessible websites at their educational institutions. This is just one of many examples of how web accessibility helps anyone who is disabled at any time for any duration to keep accessing information on the web and communicating through it.
There are also many situations where injuries haven’t occurred that people can benefit from accessibility. Web accessibility helps people to read tablets in the sun without the brightness interfering with their experience. They can watch videos in areas where they are not allowed to use sound simply by reading along with the closed captioning or text on the screen. Also, people who are using a slower bandwidth are still able to access sites that have been optimized so they don’t slow down in spite of poorer connections.
Most people these days access the web or use social media through mobile devices. Accessibility makes reading on these devices much easier, either by adjusting the size of the text or by adjusting the colors used
It’s very important before writing any content on your site to think about things any Human Resources professional will tell you before you make offensive mistakes. Most people are aware that a disability has nothing to do with intelligence, and yet they still treat disabled people like they’re fragile and trapped in a world outside of culture. That’s not true at all! These biases can pop up if one is not truly aware of how they feel about other people. In fact, many disabled people are reliant on the internet because of the fact this it is so accessible! They are able to feel like they are part of a community even if they are physically unable to join one. In fact, the internet is the perfect tool for those with physical limitations, such as being dependent on using a wheelchair, because they can watch videos, make videos, and use social media.
There are students who are attending college online because they are blind, hearing impaired, or physically find it easier to learn from home. Some are incredibly knowledgeable and have even started blogs or their own videos about what they’ve learned. So it is important that you keep in mind as you create content to treat them like anyone else, with the exception that you must make the site more accessible. People who are disabled are very strong advocates for themselves through the internet, and if your site is difficult for them to use then they may criticize it or even reach out to you directly.