No matter your industry vertical or the type of online business that you run, it is a universal truth that you want to provide the best user experience possible.
Websites with loud music that plays automatically upon loading will anger many site visitors. Sites that load too slowly will frustrate many more, just as websites that render horribly on mobile devices will simply lead to a bad first impression. This all goes without saying, regardless of the type of website that you have.
In the past, web accessibility was often overlooked. However, web accessibility has quickly risen to become one of the top priorities for online business owners, site builders, service providers and agencies alike.
More specifically, web accessibility standards have not only become increasingly codified, but they have also served as the basis for significant legislation and legal action. Indeed, many companies have faced costly ADA lawsuits as a result of not offering adequately accessible websites.
Website Building Is Easy. Website Accessibility Isn’t.
If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that it’s changing all the time. Often for the better, but sometimes with complications as well.
One simple and easy benefit that we can point out, is how easy it is to now create a website or blog in a matter of minutes. This is especially true with advancements in web hosting solutions, such as the WordPress platform.
Not only does WordPress make the site and content creation process extremely fast and easy, it also allows for a much faster site, improved security, and complete customization based on the needs of your site, brand, or business.
WordPress has completely changed the way websites, blogs, and content creation takes place on the internet today. In short, it’s also eliminated the need to learn how to program, design graphics, and code websites. For example, HostGator offers easy one-click solutions for adding WordPress to your hosting plan, which makes it easy for anyone to get started in a matter of seconds—versus spending hours trying to figure everything out.
However, one of the finer points of the changing and progressing internet is the continuing regulations and standards that site owners and online businesses must comply with. Whether it be privacy settings, mobile optimization, or making sure your site is accessible to all audiences, website owners must stay current and comply with recent legislations and compliance regulations.
It’s not only important for making a great first impression — sometimes there are legal issues and consequences associated with them as well.
The Importance of Web Accessibility
One such example of an audience engagement and legal issue that comes to mind is ADA website compliance. In short, ADA compliance requires site owners and businesses to have the necessary standards in place to make sure their website content is accessible by everyone.
For a single online company running just a single website, this can be problematic enough. If the text on your website doesn’t offer a suitable level of contrast against the background, for instance, the text can be very difficult to read for individuals with impaired vision. If the website serves as your primary point of contact with customers, as is the case with many eCommerce businesses, this can lead to devastating lawsuits.
For business owners, the problem is compounded exponentially, as every potential client is becoming increasingly concerned about offering a fully accessible website that complies completely with prevailing standards and legislation. If an agency cannot guarantee to its clients that it’s able to build fully accessible and ADA compliant websites, those clients are very apt to take their business elsewhere.
Put simply, every website owner must catch up on web accessibility practices immediately, or risk losing clients.
Even above and beyond potential legal action, there is an even bigger reason why you need to make your website accessible to people with possible disabilities: to provide the best possible user experience to the broadest range of potential users.
The good news is that there are solutions out there that can make the process of ADA website compliance and user engagement implementation into your site a whole lot easier. Below you can see an example from accessiBe. This tool shows your website in normal form, with the option for adjusting your website to meet the needs of any users who might have visual, hearing, or any other limitations when trying to access your content online.
A potential customer who cannot adequately navigate your website using keyboard commands alone, for instance, will just as quickly leave your online store for a competitor who more adequately addresses his or her needs.
In turn, agencies who do not make accessibility a priority miss out on clients who do value accessibility for their websites.
What Does Web Accessibility Even Look Like?
To better understand the modern climate of web accessibility, we must first take a step back to look at accessibility a little more broadly. The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA for short, became law in 1990. This civil rights law dictates that public and private spaces open to the public cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities. To most people, this law is perceived in a physical sense, such as Braille on elevator buttons.
ADA has since been extended to the digital realm of the Internet. Individuals with disabilities must have equal opportunity to access, engage with, and use online resources, just as much as individuals without disabilities. The understanding of how companies and businesses should approach web accessibility has been standardized in the form of the WCAG 2.1. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 outline how a website should be designed such that it is reasonably accessible to all users.
These standards outline such considerations as offering media alternatives, providing minimum contrast for navigational elements, giving enough time to interact with site elements, ensuring that the site experience is predictable, and so on. Related to the ADA and WCAG 2.1 are other legislation and documents, like Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US and EN 301 549 in the EU. In the case of the latter, the standards outline “accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe.” Accessibility is an international concern.
The Easiest Approach Is Hands-Off
Needless to say, wrapping your head around all of these official laws, rules and guidelines can be incredibly overwhelming, even for the most experienced of web developers and designers. By trying to force their designs into fitting with these standards, you might feel like your site design choices are being limited.
However, that doesn’t need to be the case at all. It can actually be much easier than that — as previously highlighted in the example above with accessiBe.
Maintaining ADA and WCAG compliance can seem very daunting, especially in the case of websites with frequently updated content or dynamic interaction on the part of the user. That’s why it makes much more sense to leverage a technology solution that not only can be implemented right into your existing site, but also adapt to any new changes or content that is added along the way.
Through the use of artificial intelligence, platforms can automatically scan and analyze websites to make sure they are fully compliant with ADA, WCAG 2.1, Section 508, and EN 301 549 standards. Trying to accomplish such a feat in a manual process would not only be timely and tedious, it would likely also lead to more mistakes and human error.
In fact, while the average person might not be aware of the ADA compliance and limitations associated with the internet, it’s definitely something that is growing in size, reach, and funding all the time. Microsoft for example, even has their own project for AI for accessibility — which is focused on sharing information and technology to support independence and productivity.
As always, the internet is changing all the time — and for website owners and businesses, these changes will often fluctuate between good and bad. The most important thing to stay aware of, are the ongoing changes in compliance and how they might be affecting your own sites or those in which you are designing for clients.