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The World's Most Popular Websites Share a Commitment to Accessibility. Here's How They Approach It.

Nov 7, 2019

It is not a coincidence that the top six most popular websites in the world have all made visible, concrete commitments to improving web accessibility.

Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, and Twitter all realize that accessibility doesn't just expand their user base, it has powerful additional benefits like improving SEO and furthering the missions of their corporate social responsibility.

So what does web accessibility look like for these tech titans?

1. Google

Google is the world’s most popular website, and for good reason. Beyond its main search engine business, Google also offers services such as email (Gmail), productivity (Google Docs), maps and navigation (Google Maps), cloud storage (Google Drive), and dozens of other technology products.

The accessibility page on Google’s website provides excellent information and resources. First, under the Products and Features section, Google provides links that help people with disabilities use each one of their services. (Did you know that Google Docs includes support for voice typing and Braille displays?)

Google also offers resources to help developers create accessible products, as well as lists of accessibility initiatives and research in which the company has participated. For example, two Google employees are involved in the development of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most widely accepted standard for assessing a website’s accessibility.

Users who read Google’s accessibility page come away with the impression that the company is highly committed to the cause of web accessibility. To learn more about the importance of having an accessibility statement for your website, check out Why Websites Need an Accessibility Statement.

2. YouTube

While it’s part of the Google family, YouTube is a phenomenon all its own. More than 500 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 8 out of 10 people between 18 and 49 watch YouTube videos at least once per month.

As a video sharing platform, YouTube is a highly visual and aural medium, which makes accessibility particularly important. Fortunately, YouTube’s HTML5 video player is accessible out of the box.

For example, the video player is navigable with only the keyboard: the space bar starts and stops playback, while the arrow keys skip forward and backward. The YouTube website also provides instructions for using YouTube with a screen reader.

YouTube closed captioning is one of the most effective ways to expand your viewership, especially for people with hearing disabilities and non-native English speakers. The YouTube platform includes built-in support for captions, and many YouTube videos have automatic captions generated by machine learning algorithms in English and 9 other languages.

However, YouTube automatic captions aren’t perfect, and they may not even be available for certain videos, depending on the complexity of the audio. Always review these automatic captions to remove errors and to include additional information, such as the presence of music or sound effects. You can also provide links to audio descriptions or transcripts for your YouTube videos in the descriptions located beneath the video player.

Closed captions are just one way to improve the accessibility of your YouTube videos. To learn more about video accessibility on the web, see our checklist for creating accessible videos.

3. Facebook

Facebook is the world’s foremost social networking site, with more than 2 billion monthly active users.

In 2011, Facebook established a dedicated accessibility team to help make the Facebook website more accessible to people with disabilities. This team has implemented various Facebook accessibility initiatives, such as keyboard navigation and accessibility for Facebook mobile apps.

For example, Facebook engineer Matt King, who was born with a degenerative eye disease, has helped the company build an AI-powered system to automatically recognize the people and objects in Facebook images. By generating textual descriptions of these images that can be converted into text by screen readers, Facebook helps people with visual disabilities better understand what these images contain.

Related: Assistive Technology 101.

After YouTube, Facebook is also one of the largest online platforms for posting videos, with robust features for video accessibility. You can learn more about how to add closed captions to Facebook videos with our Guide to Facebook Closed Captioning for Accessibility.

Content on Facebook can take many forms, including photos, videos, and text. To help people with disabilities consume this content, Facebook has established a dedicated accessibility help portal that addresses common questions, such as using Facebook with different assistive technologies.

4. Amazon

Amazon is the world’s largest e-commerce retailer, and as of 2019 has beat out Walmart to become the largest retailer on the planet. With $21 billion in discretionary income, people with disabilities in the U.S. represent a highly lucrative market for Amazon — so it’s no surprise that the company has invested heavily in web accessibility.

Like Google and Facebook, Amazon has an accessibility page that addresses a variety of web accessibility topics. The page is subdivided by disability rather than by product. For example, Amazon notes screen reader users might use the mobile website for an optimal experience, or watch one of the movies and TV shows with audio descriptions on Amazon Video.

Customers who still have questions about accessibility at Amazon can consult the company’s disability customer support page. Amazon has set up a dedicated phone hotline for customers with disabilities available 19 hours a day, helping users find items and providing support during the check-out process.

Related: Bureau of Internet Accessibility Offers Live 24/7 Accessibility Support for Clients' Website Visitors.

Accessibility is built into every Amazon product from day one. For example, AmazonPWD is a group of Amazon employees with disabilities who provide input at each stage of product design, helping to improve product accessibility.

Related: Empower People with Disabilities as Experts.

5. Yahoo

Yahoo is an internet portal that offers a wide variety of web services, including email, news, search, and discussion boards. While its heyday may have been in the early internet era, Yahoo remains one of the world’s most popular websites, even after the company was acquired by Verizon in 2017.

By hiring with an accessibility mindset, Yahoo has created one of the world’s foremost web accessibility teams.

Accessibility is not optional at Yahoo — it’s a prerequisite for everything the company does. New Yahoo employees go through an accessibility training workshop that includes a visit to the company’s accessibility lab. Here, employees can simulate the experiences of people with disabilities when using technology, helping them understand the importance of their work.

Visibility, too, is an essential component of Yahoo’s commitment to accessibility. Yahoo formerly ran an accessibility website and accessibility Tumblr blog (which now both redirect to the accessibility page of its parent company Oath). These websites featured team members discussing Yahoo’s accessibility philosophy and documenting various changes and features.

For its efforts in promoting web accessibility over the years, Yahoo’s accessibility team has received an Accessibility Award from the Hearing Loss Association of America.

6. Twitter

Twitter is a social media website and microblogging service that allows users to post and share short messages known as tweets. As of 2019, Twitter has 126 million daily active users, far behind Facebook but still enough to place it among the world’s most popular websites.

The Twitter account @TwitterA11y details the company’s efforts to improve accessibility for Twitter users. Twitter’s website is fully navigable using keyboard shortcuts, and the Twitter mobile app is compatible with iOS and Android screen readers (VoiceOver and TalkBack, respectively). Since spring 2019, Twitter has allowed users to add subtitles to Twitter videos on web, iOS, and Android via SRT subtitle files.

In particular, Twitter now supports the use of alternative text for images posted on Twitter (although not yet GIF animations). Alternative text is a text description of an image’s nature, allowing people using a screen reader to understand its contents.

Unlike Facebook, which uses artificial intelligence to identify an image’s contents, the alternative text descriptions on Twitter are created by human users who choose to manually describe the images they post. For this reason, adoption of alternative text on Twitter is more limited than on other social media platforms.

The simplicity of the Twitter interface, which includes a 280-character limit on messages, also means that much of the responsibility for accessibility lies with users themselves. For example, Twitter hashtags can be more accessible when written in “camel case”  so that screen readers especially, but really all users, can understand where each word in the hashtag starts and ends.

Related: Twitter Accessibility Tips.

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