The internet belongs to everyone — but not everyone enjoys equivalent access. According to a 2021 report from WebAIM, 97.4% of the top one million websites had accessibility issues on their homepages.
Web accessibility refers to the practice of making digital content usable for people with disabilities. The consensus standard for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which offers guidance for designers, developers, content writers, and other creators. By following WCAG, your site can provide a better experience for the 61 million U.S. adults who live with some form of disability.
In this article, we’ll explain why web accessibility needs to be a priority for every digital creator. If you’re ready to get started, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers free resources to help you develop an accessible mindset.
1. Web accessibility expands your audience
One common misconception is that web accessibility is only for people who are blind or deaf. That’s not the case: Disabilities affect about 1 billion people worldwide, and people with disabilities access the internet in a variety of ways.
Some use a mouse and keyboard, while others navigate with a keyboard alone. Users with vision disabilities might use assistive technologies like screen readers and screen magnifiers, while people with mobility conditions might use head pointers, trackballs, or eye-tracking systems to control their web browsers.
Accessible websites offer an improved experience for all of these users by focusing on four fundamental principles: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. With an accessible approach, your website or mobile app can dramatically improve its reach — without making technology-specific accommodations for every method that people use to access your content.
2. Accessible websites provide a better experience for all users
The principles of web accessibility are closely aligned with the best practices of web design. When content is easy to perceive, understand, and operate, every user benefits.
Some examples of web accessibility considerations that benefit everyone:
- Accurate closed captions can accommodate people with hearing disabilities. Additionally, many users find captions more engaging: One Facebook study found that video ads with closed captions increased video view time by an average of 12%.
- Appropriate color contrast ratios ensure that text is legible for people with vision disabilities. Color contrast refers to the difference in contrast between foreground elements (such as text) and your website’s background. Using appropriate color contrast can reduce eyestrain for almost everyone.
- A simpler user authentication process can accommodate people with mobility or memory impairments. All users will benefit from a streamlined login process, which may improve conversions and customer retention.
- Writing clear, concise content can accommodate people with learning disabilities. Once again, all users benefit: Clearer content gets your message across more efficiently.
3. Accessible websites often cost less to maintain
Accessible websites tend to use cleaner code, which means faster load times, fewer errors, and improved search engine positioning. When you’re ready to add features, refresh content, or redesign your site, you might end up paying less for development and maintenance.
Starting an accessibility initiative may require an investment, but the investment has excellent returns. In many cases, the benefits become apparent almost immediately. With that said, it’s important to remember that accessibility should remain a consistent priority; it’s not a one-time project, and every member of your team will need to share the responsibility.
4. Web accessibility is a legal and ethical obligation
Many countries have laws and regulations that require website accessibility. If those laws didn’t exist, accessibility would still be worthwhile — but many businesses begin prioritizing users with disabilities to avoid legal consequences.
Laws that require digital accessibility include:
- The United States Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Canada’s Human Rights Act and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
- The European Union Web Accessibility Directive and European Accessibility Act (EAA)
In the United States, many states have instituted their own accessibility requirements for websites. Notable examples include California Assembly Bill No. 434 (AB 434) and Colorado House Bill (HB) 21-1110.
Ultimately, most private and public sector organizations are legally obligated to maintain accessible websites. Not all accessibility laws require WCAG conformance; however, in the United States, WCAG Level A/AA guidelines are frequently cited in legal arguments and court opinions.
To prioritize accessibility, follow the WCAG framework
Every content creator should prioritize accessibility. Building the right approach takes time and effort, but WCAG provides an excellent roadmap for creating (and maintaining) accessible web content.
To find out how your website fares when tested against WCAG 2.1 Level A and Level AA checkpoints, start with a free graded compliance summary.