In most people's minds, including those of most website accessibility experts, web accessibility is directly tied to conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Rightfully so, for the most part, as WCAG offers the best path to accessibility compliance when properly interpreted and applied by subject matter experts. Any conformance standard built on meeting or failing success criteria, however, makes space for the idea some hold that bare-minimum compliance should be the target (which is tied to why some advocates don't like the word "compliance," although we think it's an important word). Whatever your stance on meeting a compliance standard, don't forget that the standards exist to improve the user experience, and nobody would ever describe their experience as "compliant." Don't underestimate the value of an enjoyable experience, which accessibility can be very helpful in producing.
Accessibility increases the joy of a web experience
An enjoyable experience on the web isn't necessarily fun or exciting if the content or subject matter isn't meant to be. Usually, an enjoyable experience is one that is intuitive, functional, and productive. This means people enjoy or find pleasure in web-based tools that they can understand easily, that they can use, and that ultimately let them accomplish something. Meeting these criteria will cause people to return to the site the next time they need or want what it offers. Falling short by adding confusion or friction and limiting access will make the experience less pleasurable. By nature, people won't want to return to a less-pleasurable experience if they don't have to.
Five tips for making the user experience enjoyable by making it accessible
- Conduct usability testing. If you can, find out what users think about your site and how they use it by asking them or inviting them to participate in user research. MeasuringU found that 85% of user experience issues can be identified with usability tests of just five people. Other studies have found that after studies with 20 or 30 people, you'll have a pretty consistent and reliable data set. The exact number of participants will vary by your means and purpose, probably, but the point is that observing how people use websites and the issues they find is doable and effective (just make sure you are including people with disabilities in your studies!).
- Take advantage of a redesign. The question often comes up whether companies should fix an existing website's accessibility or build a new one, and there isn't a clear answer that applies to all situations. What is clear is that if a website redesign is planned, you should jump at the chance to incorporate accessibility broadly and from the beginning. A redesign is the perfect time to get accessibility right as you can optimize from the ground-up, reconsider your "ideal" user, and build a lasting accessibility plan for ongoing success. This is also your chance to remove areas of the site people found difficult or unenjoyable, and enhance the content areas or types people have expressed liking.
- Don't neglect the mobile experience. To some reading this right now, the idea that designers and marketers still might not prioritize the experience on a smartphone or tablet could seem surprising considering smartphone usage stats and the general awareness that people's phones are glued to them. What may not be realized is that it isn't always so easy to change a mindset that persisted for decades. Websites were built for years with a desktop-only approach, then a desktop-first approach, and then slowly a mobile-first or device-agnostic approach. It doesn't happen overnight; however, mobile web experience needs to become a prime consideration now for your organization if it isn't already (and don't forget mobile applications).
- Make the B2B experience enjoyable and accessible, too. Nurture business-to-business (B2B) relationships with accessible content and be mindful that even in business, people engage with and buy from people and companies they like. You make it a lot easier for business prospects to enjoy your web experience when they can use your content. It's so common for businesses to think that other businesses don't care as much about how easy or enjoyable web-based tools are to use, but they do. Spending extra time fumbling through a clunky experience isn't something anybody wants to do, and the message received can be that nobody cared enough about your user experience to lessen those frustrations.
- Make the experience beautiful and accessible. There's joy to be found in function and meeting or exceeding user expectations, but that's not to say there isn't good reason to make your website aesthetically attractive. Prioritizing accessibility can help inspire creative site design, despite the unfortunate myth that an accessible site has to be boring and ugly. Check out these tips for creative site design with accessibility in mind.