Accessible Web Design
30 July 2013
Throughout the world, more than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability. In Australia this amounts to nearly 20% of the population – so why wouldn’t you build your website with disability access in mind? Accessibility is an aspect of website development that is often overlooked by both developers and clients as few understand its significance. So, why should you bother to have an accessible web design?
Throughout the world, more than a billion people are estimated to live with some form of disability. In Australia this amounts to nearly 20% of the population – so why wouldn’t you build your website with disability access in mind? Accessibility is an aspect of website development that is often overlooked by both developers and clients as few understand its significance.
Disability is not always evident – beyond wheelchairs and guide dogs there is a whole spectrum of people who need assistance with a variety of things society at large takes for granted. About 20% of Australians live with disability in some form or another, so by making your business accessible, you’re ensuring your message and products are reaching the broadest possible audience. People with disability are a powerful customer base, and deserve full consideration.
Even if accessibility isn’t a focus for you or your organisation, it is important to remember that accessibility doesn’t just benefit users with disability.
Many of the features you see in an accessible website also benefit:
- People on slower internet connections
- Older visitors to the site
- People on mobile devices
- People with poor computer skills
To be accessible, a website must fulfil these key criteria:
- Perceivable – the users must be able to perceive the information being presented, i.e. it cannot be invisible to users.
- Operable – the website is able to be operated by people of all abilities, regardless of vision, cognitive, or mobility impairment.
- Understandable – the website, its content, and its interface are easy to understand.
- Robust – the website is built well enough not to fail under the weight of assistive technologies, such as screen readers.
WCAG Level A is the bare minimum standard an “accessible” website must meet. This is the industry standard and every developer should strive to meet it whether specified by the client or not.
When a high level of accessibility is demanded, WCAG Double A (AA) is the aim. In an accessibility-focused organisation, this would be the target for every website developed.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992, Cwlth), Australian federal, state and local Government agencies must ensure that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights to access information and services as others in the community. Government websites thus have a minimum standard set for accessibility – from the 31st of December 2012 all Government websites are required to meet at least WCAG Level A, and from the end of 2013 this standard is upgraded to meet WCAG AA.
What does accessibility look like online?
Accessibility looks like good design – clean, uncluttered and understandable. Videos, sounds and images must consider those with sensory impairments – alt-text descriptions, captions or descriptive audio. Equally as important is what accessibility sounds like – screen readers have very specific parameters they must work within. For example, many screen readers do not cope well with PDFs and require a different format to be available.
It is a common misconception that sites with a clear accessibility focus are duller and less attractive than other sites. Yes – there are some downright ugly accessible websites – much the same as there are some downright ugly inaccessible websites. While many websites that claim to be highly accessible are less attractive, this isn’t a given. Done well, an accessible website can look as good or better than an inaccessible one.
Accessibility is good for you, your business and your users – disabled or not. To increase your reach as far as possible, make sure to keep accessible design front of mind for your next project.