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In the last few years, web accessibility has seen a lot of press, but what is it, and why should you care?  You’ve probably heard of lawsuits against some big names, such as Winn-Dixie, Nike, and Amazon. Two recent cases have resulted in big wins for web accessibility advocates: In 2017, a federal judge ruled that Winn-Dixie was in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to their inaccessible website.  In a case against Domino’s in January of 2019, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the ADA covers websites and mobile applications, and that it is reasonable for the lower court to require compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (AKA: WCAG, the industry standard requirements for accessibility) in order to satisfy ADA regulations. Said differently, lower courts can require that a website comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Business Opportunities in Web Accessibility

But despite what you may be reading in the press, accessibility is not just about the lawsuits.  Sites that are truly accessible are built to optimize the experience of all users.  Keep in mind that accessibility is about so much more than people who are blind, deaf, or differently abled. Twenty percent of the US population has a disability – that means one in 5 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances are living with a disability, although you may not be able to see it. Learning about the kinds of impairments people may have can help design digital experiences that benefit more customers. For example, some of your customers may need to use a keyboard to navigate your website – is that possible right now?Or someone may need a program called a screen reader to turn the text on your website into sound – what is that experience like? Someone with autism may not be able to process a website with a lot of information on it. Migraine sufferers may have difficulty with a website that includes flashing elements. And so on...There are also the many people who benefit from an inclusive design who are temporarily or situationally unable to use your website as one might expect – this may be due to illness, speaking English as a second language, having low bandwidth or outdated hardware, or cannot consume web content for some other reason. Similar to a building that is made accessible for wheelchair users, someone who has a back injury may prefer to use the ramp. And similar to a building that was designed with compliance in mind, vs. one that tacked a ramp onto the facade after the architect was done with their drawings, designing a website that is inclusive and accessible provides a wide variety of users with the best experience possible. (As an added benefit, accessible content that is of high quality with clear headings and descriptive alt text results in better performing SEO!) 

Now that you understand Why?, let’s talk about How?

At Primacy, we believe the critical first step you can take in working towards accessibility is to conduct an audit on your current site.  Whether the site is brand-new or has been around a while, you need to know where you stand before you can get started on the path to accessibility, so the natural first step is an audit of your current web property. 

Testing Your Current Website for Accessibility Compliance

A thorough audit will include a programmatic scan, which can catch 30-40% of a site’s accessibility errors, as well as a manual scan to probe deeper and find the experiential errors.Programmatic testing can reveal errors in HTML and javascript, find images with missing alt tags, as well as some aria errors. Experiential problems are revealed via manual testing. These can include myriad issues that users run into with and without a screen reader.  Any thorough scan should include a desktop screen reader such as JAWS or NVDA and a mobile screen reader such as VoiceOver or TalkBack, as well as browsing through the site using only the Tab key to ensure that all widgets are usable without a mouse.For a really quick test, open your site’s homepage and hit the tab key a few times.  Can you see where your focus is? If not, that is a huge red flag that your site won’t be accessible.   If you can see your focus, tab to the main menu and try hitting enter, the spacebar, or the down arrow key.  If it doesn’t open on one of those inputs, keyboard users won’t be able to navigate the site using the menu. Who does this effect?  Screen reader users who rely solely on keyboard navigation, and there are over 4.4 million screen reader users in the US. There are also many users with motor disabilities who rely on keyboard-only inputs.  Other technologies that have been built to replace the computer mouse for disabled users, such as the eye tracking system used by Stephen Hawking, rely on keyboard navigation inputs. Beyond that, many power users prefer to use the keyboard to navigate websites - why move your hand over to the mouse when you can keep it in place and just hit the tab key? Building in a good keyboard experience makes your power users happy.The audit report can then be used to determine whether your site can handle remediation and provide strong guidelines for an accurate estimate, or whether the accessibility problems are so vast that a redesign is in order.Remediation may be a good option if your code is in good shape and can be tweaked for accessibility purposes.  This can be helpful if the current site is newer and is performing well in ways critical to your business. However, if the site is outdated and you’re already considering a redesign, kicking off a redesign project with accessibility in mind would be the better option.
When a site is designed to be inclusive from the beginning, all users have a better experience; accessibility isn't an afterthought.
Once the site is updated and accessible, the work is just beginning. Whenever you add new content, it’s important to pay attention to the heading levels, alt text for images, and multimedia. Each of these items, as well as other pieces of HTML you may add, can enhance or detract from a site’s accessibility. You may need to update a significant portion of your current content in order to make it accessible.  The effort is worth it, however, as users of all abilities will have a positive experience using your website, your SEO will be greatly improved, and your company will be above the rising tide of accessibility lawsuits. To learn more about Web Accessibility and how to get started on making your websites compliant, check out these additional resources from Primacy, or contact us for more information: White Paper: The Road to Accessibility Article: ADA Compliance, Lawsuits in Higher Education, Healthcare and Financial Services