Over the years web design has evolved for a number of reasons; the technologies iterate, our understanding of how people interact with our content deepens, and legal requirements mandate action. In the past 10 years, there have been a number of pronounced shifts. We saw the necessity of creating web content that is mobile-friendly, with the proliferation of smartphones, later we saw privacy take center stage with privacy legislation like Europe’s GDPR.
Today I wanted to address one of the latest issues to arise: accessibility. Accessibility for the web is really nothing new, in fact for many businesses and public institutions it’s been the law since the beginning of 2021. Like many other regulations related to the web, compliance is often far from universal. There may be a sense of safety knowing that many businesses are not in compliance, but it does create a risk of fines or civil action, especially as time goes by.
Web Accessibility is Good Business Practice
Some estimates place the number of individuals in the public with one form of disability or another as high as 25%. Creating a web experience that is accessible to everyone is important in the competitive business marketplace. If your business services a market where 25% of the population speaks a particular foreign language, competitive businesses would not cede that market segment but would go after it by making sure their web content is available in that second language. In the same way, it just makes sense to offer an accessible web experience to increase your potential market share.
Web Accessibility is a Requirement
Depending on the jurisdiction where you live, you may already be required to be in compliance with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 standard. Where I am located, in Ontario, Canada, it is the law for businesses with 20 employees or more, with the requirements filtering down to smaller businesses over the coming few years.
The WCAG 2.0 set of guidelines has 4 main points. A website that is compliant would present its interface and content in a way that is:
- Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)
- Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
- Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
- Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)
So What Can I do?
There are a few different ways to tackle web accessibility.
Hope and Pray
There is the hope and pray strategy, where you hope that no one ever raises an issue. Obviously, this approach isn’t ideal since it really relies on chance. As time goes on this will become more and more problematic as regulations increase and users’ expectations rise.
An Accessibility Plugin
Better than hoping and praying, there are different plugins available to address web accessibility. Typically, these plugins add an accessibility widget to your site’s user interface which allows the user to do things like change font sizes, remove images, and increase contrast. This type of plugin will deal with some of the problems associated with accessibility but cannot deal with issues within your site’s code structure.
This approach is to go through your content and address each accessibility issue as it arises. The issues could be identified by an accessibility expert or an automated auditing tool. Some manual remediations will be more comprehensive than others. Having an expert identify each item, and then having a web developer address each one is very costly and time-consuming. What’s more, is that the process needs to be ongoing as you add additional content to your website.
Software Based Remediation
This may be the best approach for many small to medium-sized businesses. The software uses an AI to scan your site and automatically remediate accessibility problems. The software will give you the benefits of the Accessibility plugin but will also be able to address issues within your website’s code, to ensure that your site is as compliant as it could be. The AI continually monitors your site content and automatically remediates issues as they arise, so you don’t need to worry about being out of compliance when you add new content.
How can we help?
At Mission Bell, we’ve started a partnership with AccessiBe, which is one of the largest software-based accessibility companies out there. If you would like to discuss adding the AccessiBe AI to your website, you can contact us to discuss it. AccessiBe will work with just about any website, regardless of the platform it was built on, and whether we built the site or not.
Let’s work on making web accessibility a reality for everyone.