Making the web accessible to the widest range of people possible – including people with disabilities – is important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s the moral thing to do, because shutting segments of society out of modern culture is discrimination. Secondly, it’s a practical thing to do, because making the internet available to people with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities doesn’t make it any less accessible to people with normal functions, so all it does is increase the range of visitors who can access any given site. And finally, it can also be the legal thing to do: some major companies, like Target and Domino’s Pizza have actually been sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act for having inaccessible websites.
How can we ensure that the web is accessible to as many people as possible? An organization called the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has created a series of principles to ensure that websites are accessible to all users, including people with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive disabilities. WAI is on their second iteration of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), called WCAG 2.0. These Guidelines are the international standard for web accessibility. The major difference between WCAG 2.0 and it’s predecessor, WCAG 1, is testable criteria — having testable criteria allows developers to test their sites to ensure compliance with the Guidelines.
Why it matters to us
At Mangrove, we believe web accessibility is a human rights issue, and are taking a number of measures to consciously develop accessibility features into the websites we build. The majority of that work is done behind the scenes by developers and designers. We have used WCAG Guidelines to build accessible templates, and encourage our designers and clients to keep accessibility in the forefront of conversations during design and development strategy phases. After a website is launched, there are also steps clients can take to keep their content accessible to the biggest audience possible.
Accessibility in the world of design and development
Most disabilities fall into (at least) one of four categories. The following list explains some of ways in which developers and designers can make websites more accessible for people with that type of disability.
Major elements: Font sizing, colors, images
Tools: Screen readers, alt text describing elements on the page, ensuring a certain level of color contrast of text over background elements
Major elements: Music, Video
Tools: Closed captioning, identifying media is present, giving the user controls over autoplay and pausing media
Major Elements: Limited to no use of keyboard
Tools: Ability to navigate a page via tab key
Major Elements: Website structure, clarity of ideas
Tools: Semantic HTML (using notes in code to reinforce the purpose of elements on the page), accessible language, clear hierarchy of headers and subsequent information
Ultimately, we are striving to make the internet more accessible to more people — including people with disabilities — because we think it’s the right thing to do. It keeps the internet a free and open place available to everyone, it increases the number of people who can visit any given website (which is why we build them in the first place) and because, like digging out a ramp before digging out the stairs, making a website accessible for people with disabilities doesn’t make it any less usable for people without disabilities. We hope our clients feel the same way, and consider web accessibility design features in websites they build with us.
With special thanks to Mike Gifford from fellow Certified B Corp, Open Concept, and Jeanne Nauheimer, Dissemination Coordinator for the Center on Disability and Communication Inclusion at the University of Vermont for their advice and insight.