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Importance of Accessibility in Website Design

By ||Published On: October 22nd, 2020||Categories: Accessibility, Firefly Marketing, Food for Thought, Website Development||
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According to the CDC, 1 in 4 US adults (approximately 61 million) have a disability. Oftentimes, members of this group will encounter a website that is difficult or impossible to use. A website that lacks accessibility makes it that much harder for disabled adults to purchase products, sign up for services, newsletters, etc. 

Aside from people with disabilities, web designs can also affect those with temporary impairments or those of an aging population. Collectively speaking, this population makes up about 20% of the population. This means that your business is potentially missing out on a large group of consumers. 

While there are no mandatory laws for businesses to have accessible websites, ADA lawsuits are far from frivolous and businesses are still finding themselves sued over their lack of compliance (visit this page for examples of cases).

Modern Standards for Website Accessibility

Accessibility standards apply to both the physical world and digital world. Here are a few regulations and standards that you need to be aware of:

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 & Section 508

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited the government from discrimination against those with disabilities. This act applies to all aspects of the federal government, including those that are fully or partially funded by the government (schools, museums, etc). A specific section of the Act, Section 508, refers to the accessibility standards of technology. This requires accessibility in “electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government.”

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

While the Rehabilitation Act aims at the government sector, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers the private sector. It was passed in 1990 and “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services.” While this legislation was originally aimed at physical locations and businesses, today there is a consensus among the courts to apply this act to the web. 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This is an international group of individuals that work together to develop standards for the web. Their guiding principle is “Web for all, Web on everything.” Their guidelines suggest that all websites should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Some examples of these principles are

  • Perceivable: Captions and/or sign language translations are available for audio and video
  • Operable: Users are able to easily navigate through the site and see where they are.
  • Understandable: Text on the site is readable and can guide users through any errors.
  • Robust: The site works with current and future tools.

How do I know if my website is accessible?

Thankfully, there are tools available to allow us to test and see if our website and its content are accessible. W3C provides an initial check that you can perform yourself to find out how user-friendly your site is. From there they also provide a list of popular tools that will allow you to make the proper changes to your site and meet current standards. 

At Firefly, we work with a tool called accessiBe that helps us adapt our website to the specific needs of the user. Check it out for yourself by clicking the icon in the bottom left corner.

Accessibility icon

Tips for Website Accessibility

Many of the best practices for accessibility align with modern web design principles such as responsiveness (how the website looks on different devices), user experience, use of color, and more. Here are a few examples of how you can make your website more accessible and user friendly:

  • Be mindful of color contrast – Having lightly colored text on a white background can be difficult to read. Be sure to use a stronger contrast ratio to improve readability.

  • Don’t rely solely on color – If you are trying to convey the importance of information on your site, color alone won’t help. Adding symbols (*) or underlining text works better to convey your message.

  • Make sure interactive elements are easy to spot – If a piece of text links to another page, make sure it’s noticeable by highlighting the text or underlining it.

  • Responsiveness – make sure your site looks and functions properly through any device – computer, phone, tablet, etc.

  • Make your heading unique and informative – also make sure your heading follows a natural structure that makes sense to the user.

  • Be clear and concise – As with all content, make sure that it flows naturally and is informative. Cut out any fluff.

  • Make your website friendly beyond a keyboard – Some users experience websites through touch screens or voice.

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Looking for additional help?

Want to make your website accessible to all while still looking great? We’ve got you covered. Let’s design a website that is ADA compliant and showcases what you have to offer.

About the Author: Laura Williams

Account Executive – Laura is energized by building relationships. She believes that communication is key & creating meaningful collaborations is what it's all about. She's got the skill to read a room and share her calming energy to help others feel welcome. If you catch her in action, she might be snapping a pic, say cheese!

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