All business will want to do what they can to protect themselves from legal entanglements or compliance issues. This is why all businesses follow certain rules and regulations to ensure they avoid all compliance risks with things like private data, environmental concerns or health and safety matters.
But one compliance issue that many overlook is website accessibility. Although creating an accessible website is currently only legally required for federal websites, you could face risk if you don’t play by the rules.
In 2017, Domino’s Pizza and Winn-Dixie Grocers were involved in court cases due to accessibility issues with their websites. Winn-Dixie was required to pay $250,000 in fees in addition to updating their website. Target and Amazon have also faced accessibility lawsuits and lost millions of dollars in their cases.
This news is obviously alarming – especially if you’re unfamiliar with website accessibility. Let’s explain what this term means and how to make sure that your business’s site meets its standards.
What is website accessibility design?
Just as physical buildings are required to provide accessibility features like elevators, handrails and handicapped bathrooms, websites must also provide elements to assist disabled or impaired users.
People who are living with a disability are far less likely to use the internet as so many websites lack accessible designs. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 23% of people with a disability never go online. Additionally, they’re far less likely to use technology like computers and smartphones.
Your business could be missing out on large segments of your audience if you don’t follow website accessibility standards. But as with most compliance regulations, things can be quite complicated to understand.
The WCAG 2.0 is the best guide to follow to get a better understanding of what website accessibility standards are. This is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines overview that breaks down the different levels of accessibility for web design.
What are the WCAG 2.0 principles for businesses?
WCAG 2.0 has five requirements to meet the standards of website accessibility.
1. Conformance Levels
WCAG 2.0 has three levels of conformance: Level’s A, AA, and AAA.
Level A is the minimum level of website accessibility and focuses mainly on text sizing options, color contrast and assistive technology compatibility. Either the website itself must meet Level A criteria or an alternate version must be provided for accessibility purposes. Additionally, all visual media including images and text must have a contrast ratio of 3:1.
Level AAA is the strictest level of optimal website accessibility. This is often impossible to meet with all web pages as it requires features like sign language interpretation for audio/videos and high contrast requirements. Typically, Level AAA websites are designed specifically for users with disabilities.
2. Full page conformance
The second requirement is full web page conformance design. This means that all pages must adhere to the same levels of accessibility or have adequate alternate presentations. So to achieve Level AA, for instance, every single page must meet the requirements. If even one page doesn’t, your site isn’t conformant with Level AA.
3. Complete processes
Any website process, such as submitting a form or purchasing a product, must meet conformance standards as well. Additionally, each page should be formatted for navigation using assistive technology.
For instance, say that a person with visual impairments needs to purchase an item. Each page should have clear descriptions for the information and content that needs to be filled in before they can move on to the next page.
4. Compatible with accessibility technology
Some of the most common assistive technologies used for website navigation include:
- Screen readers which read out all text on webpages
- Magnification software
- Speech input software for selection and navigation using voice
- Alternative input devices such as eye-tracking or head pointers for mobile impairments
To accommodate for this kind of technology, it’s recommended that all pages are designed for alternative navigation systems, including keyboard and voice-enabled devices.
All images should include descriptive alt-tags, which provide context explaining what the image includes. Each page title or tab should also include a tagged description as this supports navigation with assistive technology.
5. Non-interferent technology
Although the latest tech features can be extremely useful in many aspects, you need to be sure that they won’t interfere with assistive tools or overall accessibility. Additionally, any technology that’s required to interact with the site must be designed for compliance with website accessibility tools.
Easy ways to increase website accessibility
It isn’t necessary to completely start over your website design to achieve website accessibility. There are a few tips and tricks which can improve its accessibility immensely.
For starters, utilize an accessibility rating tool to which errors are causing the greatest issues. These tools will analyze all of your websites and identify issues like low contrast, missing tags or navigational troubles.
You should also start to incorporate details like closed captions for videos or descriptive alt-tags for all images. Even incorporating auto complete for search bars can be useful!
Another option is to create an accessibility page or dropdown menu which allows your user to select the types of features they require. This allows visitors to select options like text size, greyscale, contrast changes or even just underlined links for easier navigation.
Ignoring website accessibility is a huge mistake for businesses to make. Not only could it land them in potential legal trouble, but it’ll also prevent your company from reaching a significant audience segment. Overall, having an accessible site merely involves a bit more planning and consideration with design and structural elements – but even little changes can make a huge difference.