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Alvaro Montoro
Alvaro Montoro

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A Case for Web Accessibility

One would think that by 2019, the argument about the necessity of implementing Web Accessibility would be over, that everyone would agree that Web Accessibility is fundamental, that it would be the norm, and that there would not be a need for articles about its importance like this one.

...And yet, here we are.

WebAIM recently published a study that analyzed one million home pages checking for accessibility issues, and the results were devastating:

  • 97.8% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2.0 failures.
  • 1 in every 13 HTML elements had a detectable accessibility error.
  • There were an average of over 50 accessibility errors per page.

In a world with over 1.1 billion people living with some type of disability, 15% of the world's population, these results are not acceptable. Especially if we are all -at least in theory- agreeing that Web Accessibility is essential.

These numbers alone should be sufficient to justify an accessible approach, but given the results exposed in the WebAIM study, they don't seem to be enough. So, here are some reasons why everyone should be implementing Web Accessibility:

Accessibility Affects Everyone

Due to the multimedia nature of the Web, people that are visually impaired are the most affected when a website is not accessible, but Web Accessibility has an impact on everyone, because:

  • ...blind people may not be able to see your content.
  • ...deaf people may not be able to hear your videos and audios.
  • ...people with reduced motor abilities may not be able to use a mouse.
  • ...older people may not be able to read small fonts.
  • ...people from rural areas may not have bandwidth to download big images.
  • ...users from developing countries may not have access to all resources.

As you may have noticed, not all the people from the list above match the stereotypical image of a user with disabilities, which is why Web Accessibility is so important: it will affect everybody in one way or another.

Many times, developers forget about the needs of people with disabilities because we don't identify or relate to them (one reason to add to why diversity in Tech is important), when truly we know many people that could benefit from Web Accessibility: your mother/father/granny/grandpa also want to read your blog, or you may find yourself in a place with little to no signal bars.

That is why emphasizing this idea is important: Web Accessibility applies to everyone.

Accessibility Is Good for Business

If being nice to everyone regardless of their condition is not your jam (you do you, as they say), here is a reason that may change your mind: by not having an accessible website, you may be losing potential clients who will take their browser and their money to an accessible competitor.

It is calculated that the people living with disabilities worldwide have a purchasing power of over 1.2 trillion dollars. The equivalent of the GDP of countries like Russia, Spain, or Australia. And this number goes up to over 8 trillion dollars if we count family and friends. This is not a number to ignore.

To put it in perspective, imagine that you own a shop, and after every 18 customers, you slam the door shut preventing the 19th customer from entering your store, losing their trust and their money. It sounds like a terrible business decision, right? But that's what many companies do everyday by not having an accessible website.

But there's more to this 19th customer that you need to worry about. You may have slammed the door shut for that particular customer, but they are going to talk about it to their family and friends, and their network may choose to boycott you too. The number of clients that you have lost is growing by the minute.

And that 19 is based only on blind users. Imagine if we took all disabilities into account! It would be slamming the door after every 5-6 customers... Definitely not good for business.

Accessibility Is Easy to Implement

"Accessibility is difficult to implement" and "accessible websites are ugly" are some of the main excuses that I hear when justifying not having an accessible product. Domino's even tried it in court. (Spoiler alert: it didn't work.)

But both of those statements are wrong. Accessibility is easy to implement, and your website will be as pretty as you design it to be (accessible or not).

This will be the most controversial point of all, and I understand that I may be stretching it a little bit. So let me be more specific: most of the Web Accessibility issues found on a home page are easy to fix and have solutions that are easy to implement.

Yes, there will be more complex components and structures that will require more work to make accessible, but many of the key points to Web Accessibility don't require complicated structures and they are fairly simple to integrate. Even in some cases, they are not even related to development but to content generation.

For example, here are five key factors that would improve accessibility considerably on any website:

  1. Adding Alt attribute to all images.
  2. Having well organized and structured headings.
  3. Ensuring good color contrast between content and background.
  4. Having meaningful and complete links.
  5. Using semantic HTML.

Raise your hand if you think those are difficult to implement. No one, right? I thought so. Why? Because they are incredibly easy to implement! And just correcting these 5 issues would fix 85% of all the problems found on the WebAIM study!

Accessibility Is the Law

If none of the previous reasons was enough, here's one that you may find more appealing: having an accessible website is the law. If your website offers a service, chances are making it accessible is not an option, but actually a requirement.

Many countries around the world have passed laws to protect the right of people to access content on the Internet, and that includes people with disabilities. If you offer an online service, by not having an accessible website, you may not only lose business, but also face severe economic penalties. (Ask Target or Domino's).

So, if you are not developing with Web Accessibility in mind, you may suffer the consequences later. You will need to redesign/redevelop your site (with all the attached costs) and you will have to pay a fine. So you would end up paying three times for something that should have been paid only once.

Companies redesign their websites every 3 years on average, and accessibility requirements have been in place since before 2016. So, there should be no reason why a company wouldn't have an accessible website.

In fact, Web Accessibility should be a cornerstone in the web development process along with security. Not an extra. Not a "we may do it later." But a base from which to grow your site. After all, it's the law.

I will write separate posts with tips and tricks to easily improve Web Accessibility. Meanwhile, you can visit this pen for an interactive cheatsheet with tips for improving Web Accessibility:

This article was originally published on Codepen on March 14, 2019.

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