The internet is an absolute necessity in the day-to-day lives of most Americans; it’s the go-to source for virtually everything we do. Unfortunately, with great power comes great inequality. For people with disabilities, inaccessible websites are more than just an inconvenience, they are a form of exclusion. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in four U.S. adults, 61 million people, live with a disability that impacts their major life activities. The number grows for older Americans, of whom two out of five experience a disability.
For those who market online, it is our duty to make accessibility a priority in our digital marketing solutions. This isn’t just a moral duty – it’s required by law… well, kind of.
Since its passing in July of 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has functioned to the best of its ability to create a more equitable nation for all people, regardless of ability. The passing of the ADA was a huge step for the disability rights movement, as it “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” Unfortunately, the ADA was created without the ~modern~ internet in mind. To this day, there are almost no legal specifications for internet accessibility, only that sites must be ‘accessible’. That’s where The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) come into play.
While WCAG guides are not the law for private companies, they are considered the ‘gold standard’ for website accessibility. Failure to meet the WCAG guides means a website is not accessible to everyone who may want to interact with it, which could result in bad press, lost clients or even a lawsuit. WCAG presents four basic principles that must be met for your digital marketing solutions to be considered accessible:
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
In short, this means that the information being given needs to be consumable for people of all abilities.
The WCAG provides four guidelines for ensuring that a site is perceivable:
- Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
- Provide alternatives for time-based media.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
Website interfaces cannot require interactions that not all users can perform – they need to be navigable and responsive for all.
The WCAG provides four guidelines for ensuring that a site is operable:
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Provide users enough time to read and use the content.
- Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
- Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
The information presented and how to navigate the website must be apparent and easy to comprehend for people of all abilities.
The WCAG provides three guidelines for ensuring that a site is understandable:
- Make text content readable and understandable.
- Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
This is a common accessibility concern for people with sight impairments who may use screen readers or other alternative methods to read information. A robust website is paramount to your digital marketing solutions, and it must work for adaptive technology now and as that technology evolves.
The WCAG provides one guideline for ensuring that a site is robust:
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Accessibility Makes a Better User Experience for Everyone
Accessibility features are crucial for those who need them, and they can make your site more enjoyable for people without disabilities as well. In fact, many tech features that have become a part of the zeitgeist are founded on assistive technologies. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these features the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) points out:
Video captions are crucial for people with hearing impairments to watch videos. There are also many other circumstances where closed captions let viewers understand a video they otherwise could not. Video captions are helpful if you have different learning styles, are in a loud place, if you forgot your headphones, etc..
High Contrast Colors
Using high contrast colors makes your design easier to spot and read for everyone, especially for those who have difficulty seeing low contrast colors, which is common for older people. Using high contrast colors also makes viewing your work easier for people who are in bright light (and makes for better-looking design in general).
Voice recognition is an absolutely necessary tool for many people who are unable to type. It is also very useful for slow typers, people who think out loud, and people with temporary disabilities such as a broken arm. If you can’t think of a time when you’ve used voice recognition technology, just ask Siri or Alexa.
Text to Speech
This technology is very useful for sight-impaired folk, people with dyslexia, and anyone who prefers listening to reading (maybe listening while on a walk or doing chores).
Inconsistent layouts can make a page impossibly confusing to navigate and read for people with sight impairments – and in general, no one likes bad design.
Large Buttons and Links
For older folk or people with decreased dexterity, having buttons and links that are large enough to actually click is important. We’ve seen this adaption come into mainstream with the birth of mobile apps, which need larger buttons due to the fact that most people are clicking them with their fingers instead of a keypad.
This feature is crucial for many people. It allows the user to change the text to other fonts, sizes, and colors that are more legible to the user. This is important for anyone who has preferences on the format of what they are reading.
Netflix: What Not to Do
In 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) sued Netflix for violation of the ADA. Until this point, Netflix had failed to include closed captioning on its streaming services, claiming that as a business, they were not a “place of public accommodation,” and therefore not required to adhere to ADA guidelines. While technically the ADA does not detail how internet services should be accounted for, Netflix is such an influential piece of the modern world that it needs to be equally accessible to everyone. Since nearly 60% of Americans use Netflix, lack of accessibility to the hard of hearing is ultimately discrimination. The courts agreed:
“In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the internet from the ADA would run afoul of the purpose of the ADA. It would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.” – Judge Ponsor
Netflix was ordered to caption its entire collection of videos by 2014, and to caption all videos published in the following years. Netflix also paid the NAD $755,000 to cover legal fees and damages. This is a testament to the importance of including accessibility in your digital marketing solutions; if a company as strong as Netflix can’t slither around the rules, it’s doubtful anyone else can either.
Making websites, or any online media, accessible to all people is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the best thing to do for your business. Excluding people with disabilities from being able to use your site means excluding potential paying customers. An extraordinarily designed site, I’m talking about accessibility features far beyond those legally required, can not only create a more inclusive space but set you apart as a company with exceptional user experience.
Many accessibility features are easy to implement yourself, but often, it requires advanced coding abilities to go above and beyond. If you want to prioritize accessibility in your digital marketing solutions, don’t feel daunted – give us a call at Brandcave, we can handle it for you.