Why Web Accessibility Is More Important Than Ever

UI/UX Design

User Research

Someone putting a pin on a pinboard with printed out wireframes attached to it
Someone putting a pin on a pinboard with printed out wireframes attached to it
Someone putting a pin on a pinboard with printed out wireframes attached to it

In one of our most recent articles, we discussed the importance of mobile app accessibility in 2021. As more and more people turn to smartphones as their priority browsing experience, can we afford to forget about those using more traditional web browsing methods?

Despite mobile’s rapid rise to prominence, UK users are still just as likely to use desktop browsing as they are mobile. Outside of the mobile-exclusive world of apps, traditional web browsing is still done mainly via desktop. This chart from Statcounter.com shows just how relevant desktop searches still are.

For e-commerce businesses, catering to desktop users is even more critical. According to data from Monetate, desktop browsers convert roughly double as often as mobile users (4.8% vs 2.25%) and their average order value is 55% higher.  Realistically, this data suggests that desktop browsing leads to higher value ‘leads’ for many types of business.

Responsive browsing means web accessibility must come first

The rise of ‘responsive’ websites transformed the older mobile/desktop development method - where a team would create a desktop version and mobile version of a site. Now, responsivity means developers can code one site which functions well on both mobile and desktop browsers.

However, this also means that web accessibility is more important than ever. As users of all devices have similar web experiences, do developers make too many assumptions about how similar those web users are?

As we touched on in the last article, there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK. Globally, there are 1 billion people with some form of disability. Many of the app design considerations in that article, such as thumb placement and touchscreen responsivity, are specific to mobile apps. The web at large is a far bigger issue for accessibility.

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines govern web accessibility, These are international standards that a business should meet to offer accessibility to all. And yet, many websites do not meet even the minimum standards in vision, hearing, mobility and thinking and understanding. According to the guidelines, websites must be:

  • Perceivable - all users should be able to see and read the site, even those who have visual impairments.

  • Operable - sites should be responsive and easy to navigate on any device.

  • Understandable - sites should offer information in a clear, understandable format.

  • Robust - assistive technology tools should be able to interact with the site.

Remember: 22% of the UK population has a disability. Would you want a web presence that missed out on 22% of a customer base?

Why you should implement better web accessibility now

The way we use the internet is in a constant state of flux, but the attitudes designers have traditionally taken towards accessibility-led design has remained relatively stagnant.

Sight loss problems affect over 2 million people in the UK - yet many sites do not offer audio versions of key information or format information in a way that makes them accessible to screen readers. Meanwhile, hearing loss affects 1 in 6 of the UK population, which used to be less of an issue for accessibility until the rise of video consumption on the internet. Now, if you’re producing videos without a transcript available, you may be isolating a large portion of your audience.

The video issue is even more concerning when you consider that by 2022, online videos will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic. If videos are the primary way people interact with the web, inaccessible content creators risk alienating millions of people.

All of this just goes to demonstrate how vital web accessibility is. Without accessible design, your business risks:

  • Miss out on an entire sub-set of users and potentially, converting customers

  • Face expensive legal action or being prosecuted. The RNIB has successfully prosecuted two companies for not being accessible to blind users

  • Generate a bad reputation or being ignored by key groups

How to design accessible web platforms

Accessible web design should follow the WCAG guidelines. However, good UX design should always accommodate for accessibility as a general rule - so you may not have to change much if you’ve already developed with best practices in mind. There are, however, some key factors to check or implement to make your web platform more accessible:

  1. Meta information: the meta-information on a website helps disabled users access the page. The meta title tells screenreaders what the page is about. The HTML lang tag also establishes the language for a screen reader to use.

  2. Navigation & forms: the site’s navigation should be configured to work with keyboards - meaning buttons and forms must be submittable via keyboard. Forms are a particular challenge as the input fields can be confusing for those with thinking and understanding-based disabilities. So, they should be easy to use, labelled clearly and usable without a mouse.

  3. Text size and colour: a website’s text should be large enough to read and have a good level of contrast against a background. Use a contrast testing tool to ensure your site is as readable as possible.

  4. Imagery: for the visually impaired and the blind, image alt-tags are a vital part of understanding the internet. They describe the content of images and should be explanatory for use with screen readers.

  5. Javascript integration: if a page uses Javascript, it must not restrict usage of its core features. The HTML should be able to act alone to serve the correct information to users.

  6. Accessible rich internet applications: AIRA is a set of attributes that help make Javascript web apps more accessible by supplementing HTML to change the way interactions and widgets interact with assistive technologies. For those designing with Javascript, using ARIA is a great idea to ensure accessibility.

Ultimately, web accessibility is more important than ever due to a few simple facts: more and more people are using the internet, disabilities of all types are increasing, and desktop browsing remains the most successful means of conversion.

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