The Internet is fundamentally intended for use by people of all physical and mental abilities, all around the world. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web has said that “access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect” of the web.
From greater social inclusion to legal compliance and an expanded customer base, there are several strong reasons why organizations should invest in making their websites accessible. However, approaching accessibility correctly isn’t as straightforward as it might appear.
Currently, the most popular set of accessibility guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which cover how websites should look and behave in terms of their code, design, and content. Accessibility must be a key concern for web developers and designers from the very beginning, and at each stage of development and maintenance, to be most effective.
Accessibility is Usability
Before launching a website, an organization must verify that it has been built to be usable, which means that using the website is a pleasant, rewarding, and easy task. From this perspective, accessibility is merely the support of usability as it applies to people with disabilities, such as making sure that a website’s content is able to be accessed, viewed, and understood by users with hearing or visual impairments.
This means that even if organizations lack experience with implanting website accessibility, their experiences with usability will be a tremendously valuable foundation. The best practices for usability can be supplemented with WCAG 2.0 or other guidelines that are designed to improve the user experience of people with disabilities.
In order to make a website usable, designers and developers need to understand how people use and think about websites. A large part of website usability involves getting information and feedback from real users before, during, and after development.
Any organization truly committed to website accessibility should make efforts to include people with disabilities as part of their user research and testing. Of course, there are a variety of disabilities that might make browsing the web more difficult, from hearing loss and vision problems to arthritis and dyslexia. Organizations should therefore strive to include people with many different disabilities as part of their user research process.
Teamwork is Crucial
Accessibility is never any one person’s job. Building accessibility in from the ground up requires a commitment from everyone involved. Although some members of the team may have more knowledge and experience when it comes to website accessibility, all of them need to collaborate and check base at regular intervals throughout the development process.
Designers, developers, and QA testers must all clearly communicate their intentions in order to create an accessibility workflow. For example, designers could create annotations specifying which parts of the design are accessible, while developers might write comments in their code explaining how a particular feature aids accessibility.
Just like other aspects of usability and design, accessibility standards and best practices are constantly evolving in response to technological changes and advances. It’s important to remember that accessibility isn’t something that happens to a website overnight. Instead, it’s a long-term commitment on the part of the entire organization and is always a work in progress.