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A Refresher on Accessibility Basics

What is “accessibility” as it pertains to websites? It is generally understood that  when we say a website is accessible, we mean that the site’s content is available, and its functionality can be operated by everyone. As a person without a disability it’s easy to assume that all users can see and use a keyboard, mouse, or touch screen, and can interact with content the same way you do. This is false and can lead to a digital experience that works well for some people, but creates issues that range from simple annoyances to complete disfunction for others.

In fact, accessibility really refers to the experience of users who might be outside the narrow range of the “typical” user, who might access or interact with things differently than most. Specifically, it concerns users who are experiencing some type of impairment or disability, either short-term or permanent. Accessibility focuses on how a disabled person accesses or benefits from a website, system or application. 

Accessibility can serve people without disabilities as well. Making websites and digital information accessible also benefits other groups such as those using mobile devices, those who prefer to get their information by listening rather than reading, or those with slow network connections.

In theory the Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability. When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability. Unfortunately the goal is not always met. The impact of disability is radically changed online because the Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world. However, when websites, applications, technologies, or tools are badly designed, they can create barriers that exclude people.

Accessibility is essential for developers and organizations that want to create high-quality websites and web tools, and not exclude people from using their products and services.

Accessible websites can present information through multiple sensory channels, such as sound and sight, and they should allow for additional means of site navigation and interactivity beyond the typical point-and-click-interface, including  keyboard-based control and voice-based navigation. The combination of a multisensory approach and a multi-interactivity approach allows disabled users to access the same information as nondisabled users.

There are big benefits to being accessible. When websites are accessible, it goes a long way towards ensuring that all potential users, including people with disabilities, have a decent user experience and are able to easily access information.  By implementing accessibility best practices, the usability of the website is improved for all users.

W3C ( the World Wide Web Consortium) notes that, “accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits.”

That is good business and good corporate citizenship.