Web accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites and digital content in a way that ensures equal access and usability for all individuals, including those with disabilities.
As a business owner, understanding and prioritizing web accessibility is not only a matter of social responsibility but also has a significant impact on user experience, customer satisfaction and your search engine optimization efforts. Moreover, for business owners in Canada, implementing web accessibility measures is also essential for legal compliance.
However, even if there’s no legally binding legislation, it’s still important for businesses to make sure they are compliant and up-to-date with the most current guidelines in order to avoid potential lawsuits. Between 2017 and 2018, there was an astonishing 181% increase in the number of web accessibility related federal court cases in the US.
What good accessible websites bring to businesses?
Web accessibility opens doors to a larger target audience by making your website accessible to individuals with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability. By ensuring your website is accessible, you tap into this market segment, expanding your reach and potential customer base.
Furthermore, accessibility improvements can attract customers beyond the disability community. Elderly individuals, who may have visual or auditory impairments, benefit from accessible websites. Mobile users, in situations where they have limited screen size or bandwidth, also benefit from accessible design choices. By considering diverse needs, your business becomes more inclusive and accessible to a broader range of individuals, leading to increased market share and revenue potential.
Accessibility practices are aligned with SEO
Many accessibility practices align with SEO best practices, such as providing alternative text for images, using semantic markup, and creating well-structured content. Search engines value websites that are accessible and user-friendly, resulting in improved search rankings and increased organic traffic.
When businesses prioritize web accessibility and ensure that their digital platforms are inclusive and usable for all individuals, it sends a strong message about their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equal access. This positive perception can enhance brand reputation, foster customer loyalty, and attract a broader customer base.
Investing in web accessibility during web design & development also future-proofs the business by aligning with evolving societal expectations and regulatory requirements. By proactively addressing accessibility now, businesses can stay ahead of the curve, adapt to changing accessibility standards, and demonstrate their readiness to cater to the needs of all users in the future.
Guidelines for Accessibility
Let’s take a closer look at two important sets of guidelines in web accessibility: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and Section 508.
WCAG 2.1 is a widely recognized framework developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It provides guidelines on how to make web content more accessible for individuals with disabilities. These guidelines are divided into four key principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Basically, it’s about making sure that everyone can perceive and access the information on the web, navigate through it easily, understand the content, and ensure compatibility with different user agents and assistive technologies.
On the other hand, Section 508 refers to a provision of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States. It specifically applies to federal agencies and requires them to make their electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities. Section 508 lays out specific standards that federal agencies must meet to ensure accessibility across various technology areas, including websites, software, hardware, and documentation. These standards align with the principles outlined in WCAG 2.1. For businesses working with or receiving funding from the federal government, understanding and adhering to Section 508 requirements is essential to ensure their digital content meets accessibility standards.
In a nutshell, both WCAG 2.1 and Section 508 provide guidance on how to make websites and digital content accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Web Accessibility Compliance in Canada
When implementing web accessibility measures in Canada, it’s important to consider specific requirements and guidelines outlined by Canadian legislation. While the WCAG serves as a global standard, there are additional considerations to ensure compliance with Canadian accessibility laws, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Ontario or Quebec’s Accessibility Standards for Information and Communication.
On a federal level the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on disability and applies to federal jurisdiction. It requires organizations to provide equal access to goods, services, facilities, and information, including digital content.
What We Have Learnt from Successful Web Accessibility Projects
Let me share some key lessons and best practices from our previous accesibility projects.
- Prioritize accessibility from the start: Successful web accessibility implementations begin by considering accessibility right from the start of the design and development process. By integrating accessibility principles early on, businesses can avoid costly retrofits and ensure a more seamless and inclusive user experience.
- You need to involve experts: Collaborating with accessibility experts throughout the design and development process is crucial. They bring valuable knowledge and insights, helping businesses identify potential accessibility barriers and find effective solutions. We utilize a variety of tools to help developers build optimally accessible websites. Our comprehensive accessibility audits allow us to source problem areas and make suggestions on how to improve the issue.
- Conduct regular accessibility audits: Regular accessibility evaluations are essential to identify and address any accessibility gaps. These audits help businesses stay up-to-date with evolving accessibility standards and guidelines, allowing for continuous improvement and ensuring ongoing accessibility compliance.
- Provide comprehensive training: Educating staff about accessibility best practices empower teams to implement accessibility features effectively. By equipping employees with the necessary knowledge and skills, businesses can ensure that accessibility becomes ingrained in the company culture and is consistently prioritized.
- Engage real users in testing: Testing web accessibility with individuals who have disabilities provides invaluable insights into how well the website meets their needs. Engaging real users in testing helps identify usability challenges, obtain direct feedback, and make informed improvements to enhance accessibility and user experience.
The Last Word
Every individual has unique abilities and limitations when it comes to using web applications. Factors such as age, visual impairments, hearing limitations, temporary disabilities like a broken arm, or other challenges should not hinder anyone from accessing and using applications. That’s where the importance of web accessibility comes in. The great thing is, when applications are designed with accessibility in mind, they often become more usable and beneficial for everyone, regardless of their abilities or limitations.
Consult with our web accesibility experts
If you are ready to create an inclusive and intuitive digital experience for your audience, but don’t know how to start, talk to our web accessibility experts in North America.