Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Why an accessible website is better for everyone and how to create one

J|oe Chidzik, AbilityNet senior accessibility consultant

Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant at AbilityNet (pictured) reveals common accessibility mistakes and why accessible apps and websites are not just better for the UK's 12 million disabled users, but are better for search engines and better for business. Read on for advice on what you should be doing to ensure your site is legally compliant under the Equality Act 2010.

What are the legal requirements for UK businesses and organisations to make their websites accessible?

The 2010 Equality Act states (among other things) that those offering goods and services should make reasonable adjustments to what they offer so that disabled people can access them. Failure to do some leaves them open to a discrimination case being brought.

The European Commission is also developing web accessibility guidelines. These will be more detailed, with advice and guidance similar to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (see below), for example ensuring provision of alternative text for people with visual limitations. However, at the moment they only apply to public sector sites. We are campaigning to see them include private sector and third sector sites too. 

How to build an accessible website or app

What is seen as a reasonable adjustment for one company or organisation might be different for another, depending on their size and other factors. There is a global set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium which are both well used, and respected. Our advice is for organisations to strive for WCAG level AA, a subset of the guidelines. There's also a basic accessibility checker called WAVE here

How to build a website or app that meets WCAG level AA 

While these guidelines are a great way of establishing consistency in development, testing with actual disabled users is every bit as essential for ensuring the accessibility of a given product or service. 

We strongly recommend a single point of contact, in the organisation. For example an accessibility champion/ champions that can act as the lead on accessibility issues and be the go-to person for any accessibility-related queries. 

What is the best platform for building an accessible website or app?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are broadly technology agnostic. For example, they describe different techniques for providing alternative text (a key requirement for screenreader users), but do not describe how to cater for specific screenreaders. In this way, the guidelines remain relevant as newer version of software are released. 

What are most common accessibility errors on websites or apps?

What one company should be doing compared to another can be quite individual - ideally every website or app needs to be tested by disabled users, with additional insight from accessibility experts. Some of the most common problems we come across are poor colour contrast - which makes screens difficult to read for people with dyslexia or colour blindness - and videos without caption, which are difficult for anyone with hearing loss.

Why is accessibility important for business?

In some cases, accessibility can be seen as a ‘checkbox’ activity, but this is very often down to ignorance. For example, many people simply don’t realise that people with little to no vision can use a smartphone or website as easily as a sighted people, as long as it is built with accessibility in mind. 

There are 12 million disabled people in the UK so it makes sound business sense to make a website or app that can be used by as many people as possible. As well as the business benefits, most organisations contact us for help with accessibility simply because it’s the right thing to do. We see a lot of positive effort from organisations we work with to make their products and services more accessible - and they also make sure they educate staff about why they are doing so. 

People may think that it is an unnecessary extra expense, and do not appreciate that making a website, app, or product more accessible, benefits everybody, not just disabled people. And, it often makes the site easier for search engines to understand. 

How does building an accessible websites and apps help every user?

It’s not just disabled people who need accessible design - many people can be disabled by their environment. Someone reading their mobile phone outside will find it more difficult to read the screen due to bright surroundings. By keeping this in mind, it is a reminder that various difficulties can affect all of us, and that everyone ultimately benefits from a more accessible product.

What advice would you give to organisations that want to build more accessible websites and apps?

Web designers and the organisations that pay them are often much too reactive and look at accessibility far too late in the process of building a website or app. They've heard that they should be compliant to WCAG AA, but they think that's just a step at the end of the design and build process.

We know from the experience of our most successful clients that it isn't a 'step’ but needs to be considered throughout the whole process from the word go. Trying to sort things out at the end is much more complicated, difficult and expensive. 

I say to designers and developers, that they should think about designing for themselves in 20, 30, 40 years time. There are many difficulties associated with increased age – loss of visual acuity, or dexterity, but elderly people will often not consider themselves disabled because of these difficulties – they are simply ‘there’ and they learn to cope with them. 

How to test websites and apps with disabled testers

Testing with disabled users is so important. When people come to our lab to see disabled people using their site, they often see people struggling to log in and fill in forms because things aren't labelled up properly, and it has high impact.

This often underlines our point that this isn’t just an arbitrary checkpoint being failed, but an actual person who cannot do what they want because an inaccessible product is letting them down. Seeing a potential customer turned away from their website is a great way to persuade business owners to put accessibility at the heart of their requirements.

Image credit: Jil Wright. Flickr.