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If you were going to open a clothing store, you’d want it to be welcoming to everyone, right?

If a potential customer came by in a wheelchair, you’d want them to be able to maneuver around your displays and enjoy their time among your products without having to worry about any accessibility issues. You’d want them to have the same, enjoyable experience a potential customer without a wheelchair would have.

Now you might be thinking, “This seems like a pretty obvious hope for my imaginary store, Kristen”.

Sure, that may be true, but have you had this thought about your website, too? What about people who visit your website that have disabilities or limitations — the people who makeup members of your target audience but might have difficulty accessing the content and information you’ve worked hard to create and offer?

 

The solution to this issue is making your website — including the format, structure, navigation, visuals, and written content — accessible to everyone. In other words, you need to prioritize web accessibility.

Who manages web accessibility on the internet?

You might be wondering who keeps tabs and works on the overall growth and acceptance of web accessibility across the internet.

The answer is the members of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP) of The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) — these people publish the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (which we’ll review below) and related content.

Why should you care about web accessibility?

As mentioned, web accessibility makes your website — and the content on it — more user-friendly and easy-to-understand for all visitors. This includes those with disabilities and limitations such as:

  • Blindness
  • Low vision
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Deafness
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

By focusing on your website's level of accessibility, you’ll enhance user experience (UX) for every one of your visitors, including those with disabilities or limitations who land on your site. You’ll show your visitors, leads, and customers that you value and care about them as individuals — and in return, this type of investment will boost your brand loyalty and advocacy.

Meeting web accessibility standards may sound like a good idea to you at this point — but is it required of you?

How is web accessibility enforced?

Long story short, there aren’t any enforceable laws related to website accessibility unless you run a government website — in that case, you must abide by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act guidelines.

However, just because web accessibility isn’t a formal law doesn’t mean your business will automatically avoid a lawsuit. There are multiple cases in which major companies have been sued for the lack of an accessible website.

In fact, between the years of 2017 and 2018, there was an increase of 181% in the number of filed federal court lawsuits.

For example, in the Gil v. Winn-Dixie decision, a court ruled that websites may constitute “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Meaning, for businesses with physical stores and websites, their sites can be considered heavily-integrated with their physical store locations. So, their websites could be considered “gateways" to their physical store locations.

For this reason, website constitute "a service of public accommodation" covered by the ADA — in other words, websites are expected to meet accessibility standards.

And in Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, a court ruled in favor of Robles, a blind man who was unable to order food through the Domino’s website and app despite using screen-reading software.

In this case, the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, "... alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises —which are places of public accommodation."

To avoid legal trouble — or simply pushing visitors away — make sure your website doesn’t prevent anyone from consuming, navigating, or obtaining any of the information you share. The simple way to do this is by abiding by WCAG — so let’s review those guidelines and standards next.

Web Accessibility Standards

The most recent WCAG and standards state that there are four main principles to focus on when creating an accessible website. Within these four principles are guidelines you can reference and work to apply whenever and wherever possible on your site.

1. Perceivable

Visitors must be able to perceive, or understand and be aware of, the content and information that’s presented on your website.

Perceivable web accessibility guidelines
Offer alternatives for non-text content (e.g. audio and video).
Create different ways for visitors to consume time-based (e.g. audio and video) media.
Present content in multiple ways without losing the intended information or structure.
Make your content stand out from its background (through tactics like using different templates or colors).


2. Operable

To be operable, navigation menus and other aspects of your website’s user interface (UI) should be straightforward and streamlined.

Operable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Ensure total website functionality is available via keyboard commands or strokes.
Create functionality through inputs other than the keyboard.
Allow visitors ample time to read, watch, and use the various content types on the website.
Add different navigation options so people can find the information they want, how they want it.


3. Understandable

The written and visual content on your website as well as the way the website is structured, should be comprehensible and easily understood by visitors.

Understandable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Make text content readable by thinking about factors like word choice, language barriers, and slang.
Make sure your website’s pages and navigation operate in a way one would expect them to (e.g. there is a logical order to the pages and subpages on your site and your navigation is located above the fold, likely at the top left of the page).
Include error messages and instructions as needed to help visitors avoid and correct their mistakes.


4. Robust

The content on your site should be easily interpreted and consumable by all visitors.

Robust Web Accessibility Guidelines
Maximize compatibility between your visitors and website by ensuring the information you share can be interpreted by the greater population.
Use assistive technology whenever it's helpful to improve compatibility between your visitors and your content. 

Now that you understand what web accessibility is, why it’s important, and the guidelines that exist, let’s look at some tools you can lean on for assistance when making your site more accessible.

Web Accessibility Tools

There are a variety of web accessibility tools available today — in fact, W3C compiled and shared a list of them on their website for you to learn more about and compare to one another. For the sake of this guide, we’ve highlighted a few options below to provide insight into the capabilities these accessibility tools have.

WAVE

WAVE by WebAIM offers multiple tools to help you evaluate the accessibility of your website. They provide a visual representation of the areas on your website that aren’t considered accessible.

wave web accessibility tool

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You simply enter the URL of the site you’re looking to evaluate, and Wave will highlight which areas of your site don’t meet WCAG standards as well as provide a human audit and review of your website’s content.

DYNO Mapper

DYNO Mapper by Indigo Design Company LLC is a sitemap generator — meaning it uses sitemaps to display the accessibility of your website after conducting content inventories and audits as well as keyword tracking.

dyno mapper web accessibility tool

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The tool also integrates with Google Analytics to allow for in-depth analyses with identifiable areas for accessibility improvement. Dyno Mapper will test all types of sites for you including public, private, and online apps.

WCAG Compliance Auditor

WCAG Compliance Auditor by Funnelback references the WCAG standards and guidelines while reviewing your website (or groups of websites). This tool is focused most on various impacts and priorities related to accessibility.

wcag compliance auditor web accessibility tool

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This auditor is a great option for those who haven’t worked much on web accessibility for a couple of reasons: 1) It provides recommendations on how to improve the parts of your site that aren’t yet accessible, and 2) it offers a benchmark for you to measure your website’s accessibility over time — this is ideal as your website evolves and changes.

SortSite

SortSite by PowerMapper evaluates the accessibility of your website as a whole or specific web pages in just one click. The tool uses 1,200 different guidelines and standards to determine a site’s accessibility.

sortsite web accessibility tool

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Some of the main categories of accessibility SortSite reviews on your site include broken links, compatibility, SEO, privacy, web standards, and usability.

A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator

A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator by A11Y Company displays the color contrast issues on your website or web pages. In the tool, you can choose to test by URL or a specific set of colors (by using their hex codes or locations on the color wheel).

a11y color contrast web accessibility tool

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Wherever the tool detects errors in color combinations or contrast, there will be ideas and recommendations on how to fix them to meet WCAG standards.

Web Accessibility Examples

Here are three examples of WCAG-compliant websites that you can reference for inspiration while making your website accessible.

1. The Cram Foundation

The Cram Foundation focuses on supporting those with disabilities, which is why having a WCAG-compliant site was important to them.

cram foundation web accessibility example

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Their website balances web accessibility with an aesthetically pleasing and branded design. The bright and branded website meets all of the WCAG color and contrast standards and their navigation is accessible in terms of both structure and color.

2. US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention is a government website — meaning, it’s required to be accessible. The site includes a page that explains how the Center works to meet and exceed the accessibility standards outlined in Section 508. Additionally, the page explains how visitors with any comments related to their web accessibility can get in touch.

US CDC web accessibility example

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The site’s standard site navigation is straightforward and easy to understand for all — they also offer visitors a couple of different navigation options so they can maneuver around the site in the way that best suits their needs.

There are a number of different content types available on the site too, so visitors can get the information they need in a format that works for them (e.g. written, audio, video).

3. Unilever

Unilever owns 400 brands and sells consumer goods to over 2 billion people globally. For this reason, they have committed to ensuring their website is accessible to all visitors — and they share information about this investment on a dedicated site page.

unilever web accessibility example

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The website’s accessible features include assistive technologies and code (e.g. screen readers, software for text-to-speech or speech-to-speech, keyboard emulator, screen magnifier, enhanced UI, and visual styling).

Unilever’s website also meets or exceeds the WCAG regarding color and contrast, layout and navigation, browser support, text alternatives, audio and video content, and more.

Make Your Website Accessible

Although not legally required, it’s wise to make as much of your website accessible and WCAG-compliant as possible. This will create a memorable and positive UX as well as help you boost customer loyalty. By ensuring your site is accessible, you’re simply doing the right thing for the people who matter most to your business — your visitors and customers. Use the tools listed above and review the examples we listed for inspiration when making your site accessible.

Originally published Feb 12, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated February 12 2020

Topics:

Web Accessibility