Do I Need to Make My Website Work for Every Possible Way Someone Might Use It?

July 21, 2020

Accessibility determines the usability of a website for people with disabilities. When learning about accessibility and the assistive technologies people might use to access online content, a lot of people want to know if they really have to account for every possible scenario and how they could predict and cover every variation. Some of this information should help.

Website accessibility has big benefits for everyone

First and foremost, website accessibility is something to embrace. It's good for the businesses that prioritize it and it's good for the customers and prospects of those businesses. If the compliance aspect clouds that, it's important to remember why the law requires accessibility; equal access is a civil right and discrimination on the basis of disability is directly harmful. Remembering its value can be key to wanting to strive for highly-accessible experiences.

Further reading

Websites can be reasonably accessible

If people can use a website, it's accessible; but can a website ever be 100% accessible? Unfortunately, no. That would mean that everybody can use every feature on it fully and independently. In theory, that is the very goal of accessibility subject matter experts and advocates. In practice, reasonable accessibility is a more realistic and enforceable standard, at least at this time.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which went into effect this year, requires that covered notices and policies are "reasonably accessible to consumers with disabilities." Similarly, we provide our clients with a Letter of Reasonable AccessibilityTM, which outlines why we believe their digital properties are appropriately accessible.

Related: Use Caution with Automated Tools That Promise 100% Accessibility Compliance

Accessible websites work with many technologies

To be clear, the more accessibility testing that's performed, the more user research or personas that are developed, the more custom use cases that are outlined and tested, the more accessible a website is likely to be.

This doesn't mean, however, that most organizations must identify and individually optimize for every single type of assistive technology that could be used, every manner by which an individual could use the website, on every operating system across all devices. Again, while that would be the ideal state, it's not necessarily feasible.

Fortunately, when a website is built to be accessible, it tends to work with a wide variety of assistive technologies and many of the ways individuals might use it based on their needs and preferences. With the foundation of accessible code and designs, most people, including many with disabilities that impact how they use the web, are able to use a website (and without accessible code and designs, many people cannot).

Here are a few specific best practices that offer broad accessibility coverage

  • Use text instead of images of text, whenever possible. Text offers a lot of flexibility in how website visitors can customize it to meet their needs and preferences, and is naturally pretty accessible to assistive technology like screen readers, which look for and communicate digital text.
  • Use semantically-correct and carefully-structured code. Remember that elements like headings and lists are navigational and structural primarily, and design elements secondarily.
  • Test everything with a keyboard. When you're certain that there is nothing you can reach or do on your website with a mouse that you can't do with a keyboard, and that you're always fairly certain what will happen when you make a selection with your keyboard, you've checked off a big accessibility box. When websites work as intended with a keyboard, they often work with other assistive technologies, too.
  • Test everything on a phone. Many people prefer to use the web on their phones (with smartphone usage overtaking desktop usage), and some people have to use their phones (or have a much easier time using their phones). Additionally, test content using both portrait and landscape orientations. Making sure content works on different devices of various sizes is key to accessibility.
  • Build text alternatives into your design, a key tip for designing websites with people with disabilities in mind. A website can make no claims of accessibility if it doesn't feature accurate alt text for non-text content — this is likely to be easier to achieve and more useful for users if it's thoughtfully built-in from the beginning.
  • Make sure everything that needs one has an accessible label. Any time a website visitor needs to follow instructions or provide information, it's the responsibility of the website creators to explain it clearly. Proper labels tend to work broadly across assistive technologies, while disjointed or solely-visible labels do not.
  • Use color properly. Sufficient color contrast and avoiding color as the only way of conveying information are essential to providing experiences that most people will be able to use and distinguish.

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