Why You Need to Care About Web Accessibility
You’ve probably spent a lot of time asking yourself whether your website is Search Engine Optimized, or Mobile Friendly, or Secure. All valid and important questions, of course. But here’s one more — Is your website accessible?
“I have no idea what that is.”
Web Accessibility is the idea that all people should have equal access to online information, tools and technologies. As Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of W3C, puts it:
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
This June is the ten-year anniversary of the first publication of The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a series of standards developed through the W3C process that explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
So, in celebration of this milestone in the life of digital inclusivity, we’ve put together this introduction to web accessibility — and why it matters to individuals and businesses in the modern home performance, building, HVAC and solar industries.
“Does it really make a difference to my industry?”
Absolutely it does!
HVAC, solar and energy companies, along with general home performance contractors, builders and architects, have been some of the earliest and most fervent adaptors of accessibility standards in so much of what they do. Inclusivity is a part of their hiring practices, customer service policies and general business philosophies. These companies also implement ADA accessibility standards in the homes and buildings in which they live and work.
Constant dedication to industry best practices, ethics and just generally “doing-the-right-thing” is vital to building trust and credibility among your customer base. It also helps you to stand out against your competitors. So, why wouldn’t you extend that philosophy to your website as well?
Studies show that at least 90% of consumers regularly research local services online before making a purchase or hiring decision, and 45% of those consumers will abandon an online resource if they can’t quickly and easily find the information they’re looking for.
You are probably already aware of the important role that your website plays in bringing new customers to your business. You’ve likely made significant investment in designing and developing an engaging and informative site that is optimized for search engines and that is mobile-friendly so people can easily find you online using whatever device they chose.
Accessibility is just another piece of the ever-evolving digital marketing and lead generation puzzle. Sure, people can find your site — but what then? Now they need to be able to use your site — and not everyone can use the web the same way.
“OK, but it probably doesn’t really matter to MY customers.”
Yes, it probably really does!
Recent reports estimate 20% of people are affected by some form of permanent, temporary or situational disability that presents challenges to using the web. Chances are that as many as 1 in 5 of your potential customers falls into this group.
It’s not about catering to a minority; it’s about inclusivity for everyone.
Your website is the front door to your business. Would you put that door at the top of a flight of stairs, camouflaged behind some trees and require customers to answer a complicated math problem in order to unlock the door? Of course not — that would be insane!
To put it another way, doing that could prevent a lot of potential paying customers from entering your place of business. For example:
People with difficulty walking – the elderly, people with breathing problems, anyone with a back, leg or foot injury, anyone in a wheelchair, anyone pushing a baby stroller, anyone with the flu who is currently experiencing vertigo, etc.
People with vision impairments – the blind or partially blind, anyone who is color blind and has difficulty distinguishing between shades, anyone with an eye injury, anyone with impaired depth perception, etc.
People with behavioral, cognitive or learning disorders – people with brain injuries, memory loss or dementia, dyslexia, adhd, autism, alzheimer's, PTSD, epilepsy or seizure disorders, etc.
That’s A LOT of potential business you’re effectively closing your door to by ignoring accessibility standards.
“Wait, what does that have to do with my website again?”
Right, sorry! Back to the point at hand. In a nutshell, your website needs to be accessible so the digital front door to your business is open to as many potential customers as possible.
The WCAG define four categories of accessibility that are crucial to ensuring the experience and content on your website can be enjoyed by everyone. They pose the question: “Is the content on your website perceivable, operable, understandable and robust?”
In other words: Can it be found? Does it work? Does it make sense? And is it available across a wide variety of commonly used devices, and channels?
W3C provides detailed examples of how you can evaluate the content on your website using these four categories in a very concise WCAG at a Glance Guide: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/glance/
“I’m not a techy person. Even if I wanted to fix my website, I wouldn’t know how!”
Wondering where to start?
1. Decide to care about accessibility and make it a priority.
This is the simplest thing you can do, and it can go a long way. Once you decide to care, it’s easier to identify and dedicate time and resources to making changes.
2. Identify and fix low hanging fruit.
- Look at your site - there are things you can probably change on your own, without needing the help of a skilled developer:
- Make text big enough to read and create enough contrast between text and the background so that it’s easy to read.
- Reword menu items to use more commonly used and understood terms or phrases.
- Make sure graphics and colors aren’t blocking or distracting from important content.
- Use animation and automatic motion purposefully and sparingly.
- Make sure links are working and obvious. Don’t make links open in new windows or tabs, but allow them to open in the same tab so people can more easily use the “back” button in their browser window.
- Don’t require users to install other 3rd party tools or technology to interact with your site.
- Give pages, images, graphics and documents descriptive titles and captions that explain exactly what they are.
3. Ask for help!
If 20% of people are affected, chances are you know someone who relies on accessibility and inclusivity standards in order to use the internet. Ask them to take a look at your site, too. Watch them try to navigate around and find information or content. Are they able to do it easily? Are they getting hung up anywhere?
Get as many eyes on your site as possible and listen to what people have to say. When you put aside all the technical work and code and data and bots and search engines, at the end of the day, your website is meant for humans.