Accessibility On and Off the Web Benefits Everyone
The world is constantly evolving. Year after year we voyage on and develop new and wonderful technologies designed to take us further than before, to improve how we navigate the world and to make it easier than it was yesterday to work, entertain, and consume.
Innovate, adapt, and discover – these are major pillars of the human experience and through them we have created so many amazing things designed to make our lives that much easier.
The web is, undoubtedly, one of those life changing inventions that has shaped human history. Our ability to connect with others, to absorb the knowledge hard won by those who came before us, to reach communities of like minded people worldwide – the web has made it all possible.
As great as this forward motion of development is, it often moves at a pace which can leave certain communities behind. Because often when we create, we are not creating with everyone in mind, but rather with the average in mind. So some people – particularly people with disabilities – become an afterthought or, worse still, are not thought of at all.
What is disability?
Simply put, when a person is disabled this means they are hindered to some degree by a situation or a condition of the mind or body (an impairment) which makes it difficult – or impossible – to do certain things others without the condition would be able to do without difficulty.
Disabilities (and the people that experience them) are wide ranging. They can be permanent, temporary or conditional / situational.
What is accessibility?
The clue is in the name – access. When the world and everything in it is accessible you maximise the audience, regardless of ability or circumstance.
Web accessibility follows the same logic. Web accessibility centres around making your website as understandable and usable as it can be, which may include providing affordances for users who exist outside of the assumed level of ability.
For a long time the prevailing view was that making things accessible was a gift, not a given. Disability is too often treated as a personal shortcoming that should be fixed. And, if it can’t be fixed, it’s then the responsibility of the disabled person to adapt and learn to navigate a world that is simply not built for them. This way of thinking is linked to the medical model of disability.
The social model of disability, contrastingly, takes the stance that the disadvantage of disability stems largely from a lack of harmony between the body and the social environment it exists in. For example, a person who is blind may become incredibly adept at using alternative methods of navigating the world and be able to do so independently. However, if guide dogs are barred entry, or if signs, buttons, guides etc are made without braille, then that blind person will be limited not by their lack of sight, but by the lack of affordances made to allow them to use their other skills and tools.
The social model of disability is highly endorsed by disability advocates like Molly Burke, the YouTube personality and motivational speaker who lost the majority of her own sight age 14 due to the condition retinitis pigmentosa. Addressing the crowd at one of many events where she has spoken on this subject, Molly poses the question, “I live in a world that wasn’t built for me, but what if it was?”.
Molly, and other advocates like her, argue that it is not only easier to build an accessible world from the start than we think it is, but also that doing so would be far more beneficial for society as a whole than we realise.
When we consider improving accessibility we often do so with a sense of moral righteousness or a desire to be – or at least appear to be – altruistic. We wish to grant disabled members of society more accessibility because we know it is the right thing to do – a gift, not a given, remember?
So, should we consider it in a different way? Instead of thinking of the people whose lives would be made easier by wider accessibility, should we think of how all of our lives have been made easier by current accessibility measures? I’m talking here about the Curb Cut Phenomenon.
We all know the curb cut; the wedge cut into an elevated curb that allows anything with wheels to more easily get up onto the pavement. The point of this design originally was to make streets more accessible for wheelchair users, yet the benefits of this feature extend beyond that. Bike users, kids with roller blades, people pushing prams; these groups and more have found the curb cut useful. It’s so useful and so common nowadays that it makes you think, well, why wouldn’t we keep including this feature when new paths are paved? The effort it takes to include them is far, far outweighed by the benefits of having them.
It’s the same for a lot of other accessibility tools. These days most of us text more often than we call, but texting was originally invented to allow the deaf community to use phones. Text to speech screen readers are useful for blind users to ‘view’ what’s on their screens with their ears, but here at Clydewire the copywriters on our content team frequently make use of this feature to help them do their proofreading!
Making the Web Accessible
So what can you do to improve accessibility and turn a gift into a given on your website? There’s lots of simple things you can do, including:
- Using alt-tags to provide a description of the available images for blind users to access via screen readers
- Having better captions on tables to provide more clarity for screen reader users
- Using the default html tags (messing with them can cause problems for screen readers)
When you are building a website it’s good practice to keep accessibility in mind each step of the way. At Clydewire we believe wholeheartedly that everyone should have access to the opportunities available on the web, but we also understand the benefits go deeper – just like with the curb cut.
Your efforts to prioritize accessibility can be a moral decision and a commercially led decision. The two are not mutually exclusive. The truth is, good accessibility is also good SEO; this is because the cleaner and more structured the document, the easier it is for a machine to interpret it, which leads to a better ranking. Google has certain criteria they follow, with accessibility being one of them; so putting focus on improving your web accessibility really does benefit everyone.
At Clydewire we take pride in ensuring that each and every one of the websites we build has a solid baseline of accessibility in place. We do this as a standard regardless of the budget or the client. If our clients do request additional accessibility measures, we have the skills and experience necessary to make this happen.
The web is a resource that only gets more useful and more necessary with time. So many aspects of our lives rely on the platform, including employment, education, commerce, government, health care, recreation and much more. Equal access to the web means equal access to all of the opportunities it awards us.
People who are disabled are active participants in society, and it simply makes no sense not to make the (often fairly simple) efforts required to ensure they can navigate the web, and the world. There are millions of disabled people who are consuming media and buying products – they are a market, and it is important to remember that and to prioritize the accessibility of your website if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on that market.
If you feel like your accessibility isn’t quite up to scratch, our team of experts are here to help by making the online experience the best it can be for all your current and future visitors.
For a friendly chat about how Clydewire can help you make the right decision for your business give the team a call on 0141 308 1029