Web designers often create web pages without consideration for people with disabilities. For example, they might use a small font size for their projects’ webpage content just because they believe it’s appropriate for the theme they’re going for. It may be aesthetically pleasing for most, but it can be problematic for those who have trouble reading small text, like visually impaired adults. To prevent this, designers need to consider web accessibility.
Web accessibility is a practice or consideration on how web developers and designers should design websites and ensure that they’ll be easy to navigate and use for all visitors. In some countries, it’s necessary and is part of the law. For example, in the United States, all public websites must be accessible for all users under the ADA or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Note that different countries have different compliance levels. To at least meet the basic requirements of web accessibility, designers can consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) organization.
Aside from compliance, following web accessibility guidelines and standards has other merits, which can benefit you, your company, your clients, and your sites’ users. Some of those are the following:
1. Provides Improved User Experience
User experience – commonly referred to as UX in web development lingo—is always the core priority in designing a website. You can design the fanciest looking in the world, but if it doesn’t load on the devices of the site’s target audience, then it’s useless.
Whether your sites may potentially serve people with accessibility concerns or not, you want to make sure that your website is as user-friendly as possible. If you don’t prioritize web accessibility in your websites, people who use assistive technologies, such as screen readers or magnifiers, may have trouble navigating there.
If those same people visit an e-commerce site you designed and find it difficult to find the products they want to buy, your client who owns that site will basically lose potential customers. After all, most internet users nowadays would rather visit another site than waste minutes of their time figuring out how to find something they’re looking for on a single website.
Improving UX through web accessibility isn’t only for the convenience of your site’s visitors and customers. It’s also for you to improve your sites or clients’ conversion rate and traffic.
2. Makes Your Business Legally Compliant In Some Countries
As mentioned before, there are some countries with various laws when it comes to web accessibility. Although some aren’t explicit when it comes to including these in their existing disability laws, many have emphasized that complying with the latter means compliance with the former.
This means that if you’re designing a website for a business that has a global reach and operates in multiple countries, you and your client may face fines or penalties if you fail to comply with disability or accessibility laws.
Aside from preventing any legal headache, considering web accessibility in your design will also prevent complaints from passionate and angry website users.
3. Increases Reach And Boost Returning Visitor Rate
Even if a user doesn’t have any disability, one can still encounter an accessibility issue. For example, designing a website that renders properly on desktops, smartphones, and tablets is part of web accessibility.
Note that web accessibility standards and guidelines were not only created for people with accessibility issues and impairments. They were created to make the internet more accessible to everyone and let everyone have a great user experience.
And if in case you designed an e-commerce website that doesn’t render properly in mobile devices but does render properly in desktops, that site’s reach will be automatically reduced by half. It doesn’t matter if you have the most outstanding homepage design, if people using their phones can’t load it, then they’ll just leave.
Know that more than 50% of internet users since 2017 access the web through mobile devices. And the percentage increases every year. Not to mention that most people prefer to do their online shopping transactions on their mobile devices instead of their desktop or laptop computers. Designing e-commerce sites that are inaccessible to mobile devices is basically a step to ruin your career in web development and design.
Other than that, making sure that your website can provide a good experience to users can make them forget about visiting other similar sites. It will also make them form a habit to visit your site only for a long time, which ultimately will improve your site’s returning visitor rate and web traffic.
4. Enhances Search Engine Rankings
Web accessibility also leads to enhanced search engine rankings. Most search engines companies strive to only provide the most relevant websites that can provide a great user experience. Because of that, websites designed with web accessibility in mind often receive favorable search engine scores and rankings.
If your client or company will rely on search engine optimization (SEO) to drive traffic and customers, then you must make your design highly accessible to everyone and compliant with the web accessibility guidelines and standards of popular search engines.
In short, web accessibility matters, and designers should be aware of these factors when building their websites. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
5. It’s An Excellent Selling Point
For freelance designers, you can use web accessibility as an excellent selling point for your services. Remember, aside from enhancing search engine rankings, web accessibility can improve customer satisfaction, reach an underserved market, and basically make your clients compliant with various standards and legal concerns related to it.
In addition, you can also use it to acquire new clients. Find websites that have poor web accessibility implementation and offer your services to their owners. And once you built an excellent web design portfolio featuring multiple thriving projects with strong implementation of web accessibility, your potential to acquire more and bigger clients will tremendously rise.
6. Improves Reputation
Accessibility ensures people with disabilities have equal access to information, resources, and services that are available through the websites you designed. It can improve the reputation of the business that owns those sites, and it will also improve your reputation as a web designer.
Remember that many individuals who have disabilities are often considered to be an underserved customer group. Designing sites accessible for them can show that you and your company or client care about their experience and convenience.
Not only the sites you designed may receive raving reviews for the underrepresented, even those who consider themselves allies of the disability community may appreciate your efforts.
7. Does Not Require Special Technology Or Complex Scripts
It may be challenging to think about accessibility when you’re in the conceptual phase of your project. However, once you’ve settled on a design idea and start planning out the details, it’s easy to make the necessary design adjustments for accessibility.
Adjusting your design so it can be used by as many people as possible is a great way to show that you care about everyone’s user experience. Therefore, the first step is understanding which groups will need access to your website and what they’re hoping to accomplish when they visit it. Fortunately, you don’t need to embed or write complex scripts or rely on third-party services to do just that.
For instance, if you’re designing a site for an art gallery that will house paintings from around the world, why not include a descriptive text about each piece of work and its artist’s biography? In this way, colorblind people can find what they’re looking for more easily and appreciate what you can offer. It’s similar to providing captions for deaf people who can’t hear the audio.
Designing a website with accessibility in mind doesn’t require any special technology or complicated lines of code. All that’s needed is to follow a few simple guidelines for designing and coding the website. You can also add a little creativity and an understanding of people with disabilities and you’ll be on your way to having one.
For a website to be considered compliant with web accessibility standards, it must have the following characteristics:
- Perceivable: Do people with disabilities and impairments access the website and consume its contents without difficulties?
- Operable: Can a user navigate the website using their preferred method easily? Can they just lazily swipe and tap on the screen to move around? Can they use the keyboard for faster navigation?
- Understandable: Is the content on the website understandable? Can the user navigate the website without a detailed tutorial? Does the site have a user-friendly user interface?
- Robust: Is the site’s lines of codes and markups legible to other people who’ll work on the site? Is the site optimized to search engines?
If your current designs have those following traits, then it’s highly possible that you only need to do minor tweaks to make sure they’re compliant with the current standards and guidelines.
Remember, web accessibility is important because it can help you fulfill the needs of your client or company by ensuring that all visitors of their sites will have no problems accessing the site, navigating the pages, consuming the content, or transacting with the business. In return, it allows you to improve your skills and make your service and designs highly sought after.
PJ has a background in management consulting and software development. At DesignBro, he combines both. Personal favorite brand of PJ is Jeep.