Do you take website accessibility for granted?

AnnCathrinWill 9
Ann-Cathrin Will Senior UI Developer | Development

Adapting means different things to different people. At the moment for me, it’s pretending I’m actually getting dressed for work in the morning. For others, it’s switching to an online shop instead of popping to Sainsburys, or having everyone’s favourite meeting that could have been an email via Zoom instead of face to face. In fact, Virgin Media reported that daytime internet usage more than doubled in the first week of lockdown. For most of us, it’s an easy switch and we adapt to temporarily live more of our lives online. But for some people, relying more on the online world is not so easy. Not all websites are accessible to all people, and if people struggle to use your site, you’re losing customers in a time when they’re arguably more important than ever.

Most of us take website accessibility for granted, but let’s look at one group who may be struggling right now. The older generations, more specifically over 70s, have been told they are at high risk from Covid-19. The most risk averse way to get shopping is now online. I know that my grandparents for sure have fallen victim to ordering the wrong thing in an online shop before. Mistaking a single mushroom for a whole punnet, or accidentally ordering 20kg bags of potatoes. 

So let’s talk about accessibility and the web in more detail, the term is quite broad, and you would be forgiven for thinking it just applies to a small section of society, such as the older generation, or people with impared vision. 

Accessibility is more than that. A good deal of people who use the web have motor disabilities, they may struggle to click small icons with a mouse and prefer to use just their keyboard, which involves developers and designers working together to make sure websites can be tabbed through with just the keyboard and they don’t get lost, with a strong focus style on elements to make sure they know where on the page they are. All things which require a deep understanding of accessibility and how to accommodate.

Accessibility Groupings

Accessibility is often split into 5 groups;

  • Visual
  • Motor
  • Mental
  • Vocal
  • Hearing impairments (switch on youtube subtitles to delve into some of the issues surrounding that world) 

These can then be categorised into 3 more groups

  • Permanent e.g blind, deaf, colorblind, alzheimers, cerebral palsy, dyslexic
  • Temporary e.g broken arm, lost my glasses, depression
  • Situational e.g holding a baby, drunk, walking

When you think of typical accessibility issues, it’s easy to overlook making small tweaks during the design and development process of your website that could make a huge difference to people’s experiences. Chances are, a significant portion of visitors to your website are going to fall into one of those categories. While a moral compass is often enough to make a company act, there’s a strong business case as well. At a very basic level;

  • The less accessible - the higher the chance your visitor will give up and go to a competitor site
  • The more accessible - the higher the chance your visitor will convert and become a customer

The legal side

Not pre-planning your digital presence to allow people to use it as intended, without discrimination, alienates potential customers and also carries legal risks. Take Pornhub for example, earlier this year a deaf man filed a lawsuit against them claiming the site's lack of subtitles violates the rights of deaf and hearing impaired under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.

And Dominos, in 2016 a blind man tried to order a pizza from their website, which sadly wasn’t compatible with screen readers, and as a result he filed a lawsuit. Instead of fixing the issue, Dominos filed a counter petition to get the case thrown out. Guess what? The court ruled in the customer’s favour. Dominos had the chance to fix their problems, make their pizzas available to a bigger slice of society and increase revenue. Instead, they fought a losing battle, lost customers and cost their shareholders a whole lotta dough.

Digital Experience

Right now, a good digital experience is more important than ever before. More likely than not, it's the only way people can experience your brand.  It’s on all of us to make sure what we’ve built is usable and intuitive to wide varieties of people and their ever changing lives and environments, including those with issues that can hinder accessibility. I, as a developer and you, the client, need to demand more from your websites, more than to just be accessible to whoever that one person is who doesn’t wear glasses, has never broken a bone, never held a baby and begged Siri to order nappies, or gotten drunk and decided they needed an XL pizza with extra mushrooms. 

Those who don’t provide a good experience for everyone will lose potential customers to their competitors and fall behind. It’s as simple as that. Right now, more and more people are being forced to move portions of their lives online. If shop A is compatible with a screen reader and shop B isn’t, it’s not hard to know where the visually impaired are going to spend their money. Many businesses update their websites regularly to improve speed, security or optimise for search. Accessibility needs to be on that list. Sooner rather than later.