How Accessibility Future-Proofs Your Website

May 12, 2022

The standards of web design don’t stay “standard" for long. User behaviors change regularly, and so do expectations — and brands with outdated websites may need to work harder to earn their audience’s trust. 

While all content can become outdated over time, your organization can plan for the future by adopting the best practices of web accessibility. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind. 

Accessibility will become even more important over the next decade

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most widely cited international standards for digital accessibility. Websites that conform with the latest version of the WCAG Level AA guidelines are well positioned to provide content that works for most people — particularly older adults, who make up a sizable proportion of the disabilities community.

Some key statistics: 

  • According to the United States Census Bureau, the U.S. 65-and-older population has grown by 34.2% since 2010. 
  • In 2019, over half of the U.S. states had a median age older than 38.4 years — and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the national media age will continue to increase. 
  • Worldwide, the number of people aged 60 or older is expected to grow by 56 percent between 2015 and 2030. 
  • About 46 percent of people aged 60 or older report at least one disability. Vision-, hearing-, and cognitive-related conditions are especially common for older adults.

Building content that conforms with WCAG allows businesses to reach more people, including the growing number of older adults with conditions that affect their browsing behavior — and when websites follow WCAG, updating content requires less time and fewer resources.

Related: Why Accessibility Should Be A Priority (And How to Start Prioritizing)

Future non-discrimination laws will use WCAG as a framework

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), private businesses have a responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. The Department of Justice has issued numerous statements explaining that website accessibility is required under the ADA. However, the ADA does not contain technical specifications.

That may change in the future. A growing number of international laws use WCAG as a framework, and in structured settlements, the Department of Justice has identified WCAG Level AA conformance as a reasonable standard for web accessibility. Eventually, the Justice Department may clarify that WCAG conformance is essential for compliance.

Congress has also attempted to provide webmasters with clear standards: In 2020, the Online Accessibility Act failed to pass the 116th session of Congress despite bipartisan support. The bill would have required WCAG 2.0 conformance, but other aspects of the bill drew the ire of some disability rights advocates for restricting the rights of people with disabilities to file civil lawsuits. 

If — or when — Congress passes non-discrimination legislation related to digital accessibility, WCAG will likely play an important role. Websites that conform with the guidelines will be prepared to demonstrate compliance, but non-conformant websites will need to remediate issues in order to avoid fines, lawsuits, and other penalties. 

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

Accessible websites work better — for everyone

Accessible design is the process of providing accommodations for people with disabilities. Many of those accommodations have benefits for all users. Some quick examples:

  • Accessible features provide people with more options. For instance, providing closed captions allows people to enjoy multimedia content without audio. That’s helpful for folks with hearing disabilities, but it’s also useful for people who browse the internet in public and users who simply prefer to keep their sound turned off. 
  • Many accessibility features enhance engagement. Websites that offer dark modes are more useful for people who have certain vision disabilities, but optional dark modes can also improve text readability for a wide variety of users.
  • Consistent navigation elements can reduce bounce rates and improve conversions. When your website has a consistent structure, users can find the information they need easily, regardless of their abilities.

The best practices of website accessibility are closely aligned with the best practices of universal design. If your website is easy to operate with a wide variety of technologies, you’ll spend fewer resources adapting to new internet trends — regardless of how those trends change your users' behaviors. 

When your website has clear controls, a predictable structure, and simple functionality, everyone benefits. For more guidance, download the free Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility.

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