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Understanding the Importance of Web Accessibility

Posted 24 September 2015 9:00 AM by Patrick Young @MoxieUSA, @patrick_young_

Do you use the Internet? Of course you do. In fact, you’re one of more than 3 billion Internet users. The Internet is a primary tool that we leverage every day — for anything and everything, ranging from information, articles and education to socializing, networking, entertainment and more. Yet many websites are not making their sites accessible for all users.

There are about 60 million Americans who are disabled in some way, with 90% disabled due to injuries or diseases suffered after their birth. And these folks, just like everyone else, like to use the Internet. That’s where Web Accessibility comes in.

As the name indicates, Web Accessibility is a way of making websites accessible for people with disabilities. Put simply, it involves designing and building websites with every person mind. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) dictates that service providers cannot discriminate against persons with disabilities by refusing to provide any service that it provides to the public. Equal Access is required by law and is a right. Any website that fails to comply with the DDA could potentially be sued.

It can be easy to forget about people with disabilities when building a site, especially when you have no disabilities. Indeed, people without disabilities frequently take their abilities for granted. So to work against that inclination, let’s imagine for a moment that you are blind. First, let’s set the scene: You wouldn’t have a screen or a mouse in front of you; instead, you would have a screen reader, a brail keyboard and headphones. Employing these tools, you pull up a website and, as you do, your screen reader begins reading to you from the top of the page down, starting with the title. Using keyboard shortcuts, you now navigate to the site menu. Once you’re there, the screen reader lists all of the links and, although you try to navigate out of the menu, you can’t. You keep hitting the up and down arrow keys — they should take you back to the page — but it doesn’t work. You’re stuck. And even if you’re not irritated (which you most likely are), the website no longer has anything to offer you. So you leave it in search of another that’s more suited to you and your needs.

I got to experience this very scenario firsthand while at Web Accessibility training last week. A blind woman, Amy Salmon, was guiding me through a page I had just recently built. One after another, she began listing off numerous problems. It was extremely frustrating for me as a developer to know that my site did not work for her. I can only imagine how it felt for her.

I was also embarrassed. I felt like I was letting Amy and others with disabilities down, which I very much was. After we finished the exercise, Amy, the other developers and I talked about solutions to fix these problems. That’s when I decided I was going to help Moxie’s team more actively address these issues in our projects. After all, our goal is to create amazing work for our clients and their consumers. We’re falling short of that aim if we fail to connect with each and every user out there.

Web Accessibility needs to be part of every project from the start. Think about it when you’re building wireframes, when you’re designing pages or when you have a radical new business pitch that could revolutionize work for you and your clients. If you’re not sure where to begin, there are plenty of resources out there — and they’re not just for development or QA folks. They’re for anyone who’s involved in website projects. For example, WebAIM is a non-profit organization that is pushing for better standards in Web Accessibility. It offers information, training, guidelines and more for anyone interested in creating more accessible websites. Another great source is Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). These are just two of many entities out there willing to offer insights and assistance. By leveraging these resources and others, we can ensure that every user who wants to engage with our clients online will have a rewarding, friction-free experience.

Do you have questions or suggestions about improving Web Accessibility? Please comment below.

Patrick is a front-end Web developer at Moxie. When he’s not building pages for our clients, he is playing guitar, watching Netflix or enjoying time with his children and wife. Follow his adventures on Instagram (pattywhack) or on Twitter (@patrick_young_).


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