The dream of an inclusive web
The internet is built for people, and one of the fastest growing areas of web development is that of accessibility. Fueled in part by a steady growth of lawsuits, a realization that there is a large underserved segment of internet users, and some seeing a commitment to good accessibility practices as brand and technology enhancements. No matter how an organization comes to embrace accessibility, it is an area that touches upon every aspect of website creation. Developers, Content creators, User Experience & Visual designers all have responsibilities within accessibility, but most importantly it’s about empathy for all users and delivering content no matter the technology needed to consume and interact with it.
To illustrate the global challenge of web accessibility, WebAIM scanned the top 1 Million homepages and found less than 1% are meeting WCAG 2 A/A conformance levels. An average of 59.6 errors per page also shows the scale of the issue and the investment that will be needed to begin to address this deficiency. Accessibility is not solved with a checklist or automated test but requires a culture that intertwines accessibility throughout the decision making process. For those that require assistive technologies either temporarily or permanently, the lack of accessibility support can present a barrier to modern daily life and in some cases even medically harmful.
The good news with the web in such a dire state of accessibility conformance is that small changes can have a big impact. With the WCAG 2.0 guidelines championed by the W3C there are many considerations, many are not code specific and can also be subject to interpretation and preference. Instead of getting lost in the weeds of specific techniques, lets first look at a few considerations to improve accessibility adoption and reduce costs along the way.
Use the tools
Before a single line of code is written, design and user experience choices set in motion a cascade of requirements for accessibility, if not addressed early can bring development to a crawl at the most critical times. The basics, such as text color contrast is an easy issue to detect and resolve, yet 85.3% of homepages do not conform to these guidelines. With automated testing tools able to identify the vast majority of color contrast issues, employing these tools in your design and build processes requires low effort with high impact. Although employing an accessibility scan in your development process can find HTML and content entry issues, much of accessibility is about the user experience for those using assistive technologies, this requires strategic thinking.
It’s all about people, actual real humans. Having employees that use assistive devices will provide invaluable insight and will help create a better product beyond accessibility. Having evangelists and compliance officers while encouraging every discipline to evangelize and seek professional development opportunities will build a sense of purpose. Build empathy by having your teams navigate sites without a mouse or only a screen reader. Improving our collective mindset about accessibility and seeing this moment as an opportunity can only improve the currently rock-bottom 1% homepage WCAG A/AA conformance rate.
Creating a foundation for a culture of good accessibility practices is a great place to begin. In the next post, I will unpack some of the validators and automation tools available for accessibility conformance.