When you think about accessibility, what comes to mind first? For many of us, we probably think of handicapped parking spaces, wheelchair-accessible bathroom stalls, or maybe braille numbers in an elevator. We tend to think of accessibility in terms of how people navigate the physical world, but, now that we spend so much time online, it is just as important to ensure accessibility in the digital world.
As a creative agency that creates websites, it’s easy for us to assume that our users are just like us – they have good vision and hearing and can navigate a site using a keyboard and mouse. But, when we think about it, designing and building sites just for those with perfect vision, hearing, dexterity, and cognition is extremely limiting. Our end goal is to build products for people to use, so we should include empathy in all of our decisions and understand how to build sites for everyone.
The reality is that, at any time, about 20% of the US population is living with a disability or impairment. In general, we can think of impairments as falling into four broad categories: visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive. Impairments can be both permanent (e.g. blindness or hearing loss) and temporary (e.g. a broken arm or concussion), and can affect your users in ways you may not expect.
For example, let’s walkthrough how someone who is blind or has a severe visual impairment might use a website. One tool they might use is a screen reader, which allows them to navigate the site using a keyboard and reads out all the content on the page. And I mean ALL the content. A screen reader will keep reading the content until the user enters keyboard inputs to move around the page, maybe moving into the menu or running through page headers.
Without a keyboard-accessible menu or well-structured content, it’s difficult (and frustrating) to navigate through a website using a screen reader, and it’s possible for them to miss entire pages of content just because it can’t be accessed with a keyboard.
It’s important to realize that website accessibility doesn’t just make the web a better place for people with disabilities, it makes it a better place for every user. Examples include having well-structured content, colors and fonts that are easy to read, image descriptions in case images don’t load on a slow connection, buttons large enough to tap on a phone, animations that don’t jump around the page, the ability to zoom or enlarge text, and the list can go on and on (and on and on).
When we design and develop websites, it’s not only our responsibility to create more accessible websites, it’s in our best interest. Why create a site that cannot be accessed by some users, ruling out some potential clients or customers? As designers and developers, we should pledge to factor our users and accessibility into all of our decisions, not to meet some legal standard, but because it’s the right thing to do.