With internet presence becoming a standard for businesses as a way to promote and brand themselves, users have set expectations in terms of ease of usability in traversing various websites. There is an established precedent when it comes to browsing online sites…and that comes down to accessibility and inclusivity.
Having an accessible and inclusive website (one that is ADA compliant) makes it easier for more people to interact with your business online. From people with varying experiences using the web to people with various disabilities, accessibility is a key feature in establishing your business has a trustworthy presence online.
Overall, accessibility ensures as many people as possible are enabled to use your website— despite any limitations. In addition to helping drive site traffic, increase overall reach, and strengthen your reputation, accessibility also ensures you remain ADA compliant—ultimately protecting you against litigation and (potentially) thousands of dollars in fees should a lawsuit arise.
Accessibility or Inclusivity. Discuss.
While the terms “accessibility” and “inclusivity” are generally used interchangeably, it’s important to understand that accessibility is essentially an outcome of inclusivity.
Accessibility is about designing an experience to meet the needs of everyone within your audience—including those with disabilities. It focuses on the end result and making sure everyone can access websites and/or digital products effectively.
Inclusivity is about creating content that is mindful of a broad range of users. Instead of focusing on the outcome, inclusivity is more about the process and methodology for how to approach a solution to achieve a particular outcome.
When it comes down to it, accessibility and inclusivity are both tools that allow you to create user-friendly websites and digital products that can be easily accessed and used by the largest, most diverse groups of people.
Beyond the Screen
The ADA Compliance Pros say 56 million Americans have some form of disability, and 50% of them use the internet daily. According to the CDC, that's one in four Americans with a disability.
With those kinds of numbers, it stands to reason that somewhere along the way, there were hiccups, detours, or flat-out roadblocks that prevented users from being able to easily navigate, understand content, see images, or obtain the information they were looking for on a site.
However, thanks to the widespread information available on the internet, stories and insights regarding the difficulties people with disabilities face when acquiring accessibility have been brought to the forefront. These stories help to highlight the importance of inclusivity, promote further education on the topic, and encourage the “retooling” of sites to ensure all users have an optimal site experience.
It's from these insights that we’ve learned where issues exist and what must be done to ensure better ways of creating and updating websites to make them more accessible to more people. (Consider them exceptional learning experiences you can gain along the ADA compliant way.)
While many assume accessibility requirements are mostly surface level (i.e., color contrast ratio), the majority are actually within the code of the site (i.e., descriptive labels, navigation, headings and spacing, interactive components, etc.).
Similar to how ADA compliance in the “real world” can be achieved through physical updates to a facility and that anyone case use (think wheelchair access ramps or automatic doors), in the digital world, ADA-compliant updates offer benefits that all visitors and users can take advantage of.
All for One, One for All
Ensuring your website is accessible to as many people as you can is a great way of meeting other priorities for your business's website.
By solving for accessibility, you can simultaneously meet goals such as SEO, user experience, and performance. Improving one aspect often has a positive effect which can snowball into improving other aspects.
For example, providing text alternatives for any non-text content (like transcripts for video or audio voiceovers). These alternative options can be beneficial for visitors to your website who consume content through screen readers as well as for helping search engines find your site.
It’s also important to think ahead and “preemptive strike” any potential issues someone might encounter while trying to navigate your site. For instance, if a link or a form input doesn’t have descriptive text, a screen reader will not be able to properly identify it for the user—therefore leaving them with an unknown link and/or unknown destination.
Making your site navigable with only a keyboard can also go a long way. Keyboard navigation may be necessary for users who have had a stroke or who have limited mobility. Additionally, it’s helpful for users should a mouse battery lose its charge. Like with screen readers, it’s helpful to have a links that skip to content or avoid repetitive aspects of your website (such as headers).
Accessibility is not a feature to be added to a website as a bonus. It's a standard.
Hubspot Developers say, "When approached early on in a project you can design and develop solutions instead of needing to re-architect something later." In other words, one of the keys to successful ADA compliance is to remain proactive rather than reactive.
Another key to success is to be compassionate, empathetic, and have an honest-to-goodness desire to learn, research, and ensure all users have the optimal site experience every time.
But, what happens when you do it all and it’s somehow not enough?
Hubspot Developers say it's "technically possible to create a web page that passes most automated accessibility tests with flying colors but is completely unusable to all humans, sighted, blind, deaf, color blind, limited or unlimited motor function."
When working toward ADA compliance, you want to make sure you’re not just meeting the requirements to check off the boxes. You want to ensure your website is as much accessible as it is inclusive so that your users won’t become frustrated or feel alienated from their experience.
Take a step back to get a comprehensive inventory of all that your site does and all that it offers visitors. Understanding where some of your website’s functions may fall short will help you identify areas of weakness and ultimately find new ways to extend your overall reach.
What's best to keep in mind is that a lot of accessibility additions can aid in areas you're already working on in designing your website— from SEO to user experience to performance.
You can double check your website’s accessibility the same way you check its performance. But you shouldn’t solely rely on tools to check accessibility. Test your work and make sure your test pool contains a variety of people to ensure you receive diverse feedback from varying experiences.
It’s also important to understand that website feedback and critiques should be conversations, not one-way channels. Be open to changes, and if you have questions or need clarification, don’t be afraid to ask or speak up.
If you’re feeling unsure or overwhelmed at the thought of updating your current site to ensure accessibility and inclusivity, Hileman Group is here to help. In addition to performing ADA audits on established sites (both from front-end development and UX/UI perspectives), we can also offer insights, tips, and next steps on ways to make your site ADA compliant.
Accessibility and inclusivity are not just features, they’re keys to boosting your website's engagement and crucial to connecting and building empathy with your audience. In the end, a website's success comes down to how users interact with it. Let us help make that interaction simple, seamless, and effective.