While the FCC’s recent ruling on Net Neutrality raises many questions and concerns on the landscape of a future Internet, the very spirit of the World Wide Web is guided by the idea that content and information should be widely accessible and available to as many people as possible, and on many device types as possible. This includes making sure content is available to people with disabilities, as well as on non-standard device formats (such as mobile devices). This post will give an overview of the basic principles of Web Accessibility, examples of how you can make your site more accessible, as well as some resources for learning more.
Who Is Accessibility For
There is a common misunderstanding that Web Accessibility is primarily for blind people, as the introduction of screen readers for those with visual impairments was an early step in increasing accessibility.
Despite this, there are four major areas of potential disabilities that should be taken into consideration in the UX process:
Visual: This can be blindness, but can also include such conditions as Glaucoma or color blindess.
Auditory: While content on the Internet primarily relies on vision, a site’s UX often incorporates audio for various cues or user interaction. Those with hearing impairments or sensitivities should be taken into consideration when adding any features relying on auditory cues.
Motor: Motor impairments such as Parkinson’s or Cerebral palsy can make user navigation difficult, especially when having to rely on a mouse.
Cognitive: UX should also take into consideration impairments that may affect cognitive processing, such as Autism, Down’s syndrome and Dyslexia.
As reported by the World Health Organization, the Blind and visually impaired make up approximately 285,000,000 people, and deaf and hearing impaired are just slightly under that at 275,000,000. In comparison to the total population of the U.S. at 315,000,000, these are significant numbers that make accessibility a priority for all producers of digital content.
Accessibility Guidelines and Standards
In an effort to document and standardize rules, the W3C (or World Wide Web Consortium) has been developing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)since its first recommendation was published in 1999. As published recommendations by the W3C are usually very slow and irregular, their guidelines can sometimes be a bit outdated. In an effort to have a more regularly-updated and community-involved discussion on the topic, The A11Y Project was founded several years ago as a developer-driven, Open Source project to provide practical accessibility guidelines for the web of today.
Resources for Accessibility
As a conclusion, here are a few worthwhile tools for considering accessibility in your UX planning:
Accessibility Developer Tools
Developed by Google Accessibility, Accessibility Developer Tools is a Chrome extension that can perform an audit of your site’s current accessibility levels, and areas for improvement.
As color contrast is a major contributing factor in accessibility for those with various forms of visual or cognitive impairments, choosing the right color combinations for your site are an important first step. randoma11y.com will generate a random color combination with an acceptable level of color contrast for accessibility.
Bootsrap Accessibility Plugin
Developed by PayPal, the Boostrap Accessibility Plugin integrated many of the common markup and accessibility guidelines suggested by the W3C and A11Y, to the Bootstrap CSS framework. This is an easy way to set up compatibility with screen reader software, improve keyboard navigation, and many other features.