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If Content is King, Accessibility is Queen

Ella McConnell

Many of us take our capabilities for granted, with using the internet being as simple as opening a browser and typing in where you want to go. However, for a large proportion of internet users, it is necessary to utilise specialised methods and technology in order to achieve online tasks that others might not spare a second thought in doing.

Despite this undeniable need for an accessible browsing experience for all users, an alarming number of websites are woefully ill equipped to provide one. Whether it’s bad code, poorly written copy or improperly labelled images, all these factors can impair a user’s ability to easily interact with a site.

In this, the eighth instalment in our ‘If Content is King’ series, we take a look at the importance of accessibility in relation to content production and consumption as well as taking into account the benefits of ensuring that your site is accessible to all.

What is accessibility?

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) defines web accessibility in the following way:

“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.”

Many consider visual or auditory impairment to be one of the primary obstacles faced by people with disabilities attempting to use the internet, but these can also include physical, cognitive, neurological and speech-related issues.

In order to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities, it is important to ensure that any potential accessibility barriers within a website are removed. Failure to do so can result in confusion, frustration and even ultimately a reduction in traffic as users come up against the same frustrating issues.

Guidelines for accessibility

The WAI has published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in order to make it easier for webmasters to make their sites more accessible for people with disabilities. There are three priority levels, the first (A) signifying requirements that must be satisfied or else a site runs the risks of being completely inaccessible while the last (AAA) denotes requirements that may be satisfied in order to make it easier for some groups to access the onsite content in question.

Gaining a priority 1 (A) pass level as a minimum is advisable for a number of reasons (especially if your site is a commercial one). Aside from the obvious benefits for users with disabilities, it pays to realise that failure to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, and to take reasonable steps in order to ensure the accessibility of your site, can result in litigation.

How can you ensure your site is accessible?

Every site is different, and as such some will require more work in order to make them more easily accessible. However, there a number of key points to bear in mind when trying to ensure that a website complies with the latest web content accessibility guidelines:

Perceivable

A site should be easy to perceive. This means that:

  • Text alternatives should be provided for non-text content, for example captions (and other alternatives) for videos and other multimedia
  • Content that can be presented in different ways without losing meaning, for example if it is interpreted by assistive technologies, should be created
  • It should be made easy for users to see, hear and otherwise experience content regardless of any impairment they may have

Operable

A site should be easy to operate, with multiple methods of navigation possible. For example:

  • All functionality should be available from a keyboard (in case a user has difficulty using a mouse)
  • Users should be given enough time to read and use content (some sites feature scrolling text that is too small or too fast to easily read, for example)
  • Help users to navigate and find the content they need
  • Do not use content that can cause seizures (such as videos with flashing images)

Understandable

A site should be easy to understand regardless of the user in question’s abilities. This means making sure:

  • Text is easily readable and understandable
  • Content appears and operates in predictable ways
  • Users are given help to avoid and correct mistakes (like Google’s “did you mean…?” function)

Robust

This means ensuring that a site’s compatibility with current and future user tools (i.e. those associated with accessibility) is maximised.

Accessibility in the United Kingdom

In the UK, the 2010 Equality Act does not actually explicitly refer to website accessibility. However, it does make it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, the Act applying to anyone providing a service in public, private and voluntary sectors. The Code of Practice: Rights of Access document published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which details accessibility issues pertaining to services to the public, public authority functions, private clubs and premises, makes specific reference to websites being a public service and as such should be considered as being covered by the Act.

Accessibility isn’t just about user experience

Accessibility is beneficial for site owners as well as site users. Making sure your site is accessible will help reduce bounce rates among those users with accessibility issues, who often leave sites when they can't access the information they're looking for. Not being able to find the content you need due to poor site design is frustrating regardless of any additional accessibility requirements you may have, but it is made even more so if you depend on one or more aspects of this in order to interact with a webpage comfortably and efficiently.

Additionally, there are also advantages from an SEO perspective. Making sure images are properly alt tagged, for example, also ensures that search engines are able to better assess the relevance of content and thus index it correctly, while a site that becomes known within the community for being particularly well optimised as far as accessibility is concerned is likely to benefit from recommendations and thus links.

To put it simply, no matter how well researched, written, placed and presented a piece of content is, if it is inaccessible to a proportion of your audience, a lot of time and effort has effectively been wasted. This requirement for inclusivity in all content created demonstrates how accessibility is indeed another of content’s many queens.

If you're still curious as to how other aspects of content affect any user's experience, check out some more posts from our 'If Content is King' series.



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