An Introduction to Web Accessibility

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 As published recommendations by the W3C are usually very slow and irregular, their guidelines can sometimes be a bit outdated.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. 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.

D.I.Y website is a bad idea

D.I.Y – Do It Yourself

A few years ago, my toilet would not stop running. I went to Youtube and found a video of a plumber who fixed a running toilet in 3.5 minutes. Being the sort of DIY person I am, I gathered my tools and got ready for the quick fix. I dried it up, scraped some stuff, tightened some other stuff, and it got better, but it was still running. A bunch of other Youtube videos and a visit to the store later, I nailed it – it was working like new!  I felt so proud of myself that I did it all for free and didn’t have to pay a plumber! That feeling lasted for a few more minutes until it hit me—this was far from free. Between videos, work, and a trip to the store, I had literally spent about 6 hours—6 hours to do what a professional plumber did in 3.5 minutes, and I didn’t even feel 100% confident that my solution would last. Go me!

The Temptation of D.I.Y.

When it comes to building a website, it’s very easy to get caught up in the same idea. Many online businesses—WIX, Squarespace, Godaddy, etc.—offer professional-looking templates and easy-to-use tools that allow users of just about any skill level to create a working site. We’ve worked with many clients who started out using those tools but eventually decided against them because “it looked DIY”—and that is where one of the biggest DIY website issues comes in.

Inexperience Rarely Makes a Good Impression

Unless you have a great eye for design and actually know how to put fonts and pictures together the same way a designer would, then your website will likely not look professional. If you’re pretty good at it and somewhat technical, then it can look fine, but “fine” could mean you are wasting an opportunity to make an impact or close a sale. Customers have so many options these days that they are looking for great. If design is not your forte, you could even make a bad impression, regardless of how solid your product or service is.

Just like you would judge a brick and mortar store on how clean and organized it is, visitors will judge your product or company based on what your website looks like—that is a proven fact.

DIY Can Actually Cost You

Too often we only associate “cost” with money—and only directly: e.g., it costs money to purchase something. We tend to forget that things like DIY projects also cost us time and indirect money (lost sales/revenue). Let’s say you’ve researched how much it costs to pay a professional to make a website, and even the lower end “feels” like too big of a number for something you could “easily do yourself.” So you do just that. You start doing more research, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, and learning more than you ever wanted to know about building a website, website design, user flow, etc.

Eventually, you have a finished website that you are content with, and it only took you 3 hours a day . . . for a month. 3 things to consider here:

a) What are those 90 hours worth?

b) How much ROI (return on investment) will this website give you?

c) Will this website give your business the boost it needs to succeed?

More often than not, and you can ask your fellow colleagues, the answers to those 3 questions all make it obvious that you should hire a third party that specializes in doing what you’re trying to do – websites or otherwise. Furthermore, when it’s just about a toilet and a few hours then you can afford to make a mistake and laugh about it, but when it comes down to the success of your business the stakes are much higher.

Investing in a Professional is Worth Your While

The vast majority of business have seen dramatic increases in conversions and sales following a solid website redesign which goes to show that it’s an investment that comes back multi-fold. You want do your research, pick the best partners, and never look back. That doesn’t mean that you should hire the biggest and most expensive if you’re not there yet—maybe it just means hiring a freelancer to help out, but make sure that they have enough experience and talent to get the job done right, because more often than not, a mistake costs much more than the original investment.

Take User Experience Personalization to the Next Level

The trend toward greater personalization has grown in the last year and so has the technology to make it happen. To maintain a base of loyal customers, a brand must show that it’s listening to user actions and behaviors and adapting according to that information. Unfortunately, the lag time it takes to process data and make these changes can result in losing the customer, and predictive solutions can often be a hindrance. Real-time UX personalization and contextually based interactions can help improve a company’s efforts to cater to modern consumers. A business must understand the importance of content personalization and use current products to allow their apps to respond immediately to context and instantly deliver what consumers want.


App creators have access to a plethora of data giving them insights into how they might further develop their apps to adapt to the user’s context. By making use of data that smartphones already collect, these creators can customize the experience, demonstrating to their user base that the app gives the customer actual value. As so many companies and developers enter the market, this customization becomes exceptionally important, convincing users to ignore the noisy market of look-alike apps vying for their attention.

This app competition serves the users because it compels companies to create value to keep their business. Competition means apps need to be faster and more seamless in their integration into users’ lives. They must also be adaptable to varying customer needs. With all the competition clamoring for customer attention, an app needs to deliver the message the customers want to hear.


This concept may seem complicated, but it really isn’t. An app doesn’t need to literally read the users’ minds – just seem to do so. The benefit to the user and the company providing the service hinges on how seamlessly suggestions and features can be implemented. When users are going about their day, a company’s app should use what resources it possesses to give the users something that benefits them. For example, a coupon to a local grocery store displayed by a notification when the phone’s location data indicates a user entering the store’s parking lot can be a boon to business, and it’s not complicated.


Industry professionals call this data context. It gives the program the information it needs to deliver something customized to the user. It also allows the app to change that item or send a new one if the data changes. That kind of adaptability tells users that the app values the customers’ time and wants to help them in a way specific to them.


Not all apps need to customize the experience for users to the levels described here. The businesses that benefit the most from providing their customers the kind of real-time personalization are mainly retail, financial, and hospitality companies. Here’s a breakdown of each:


These companies thrive on providing their customers with one thing: filling wants and needs. These shifts constantly, depend on context and vary from customer to customer. Factors outside of the companies’ control can change how a customer acts in a store or on a retailer’s website. A cold front might compel them to buy a sweater. A new job may require a professional bag.

In these cases, an app that can adapt to available data, tipping the software off to a sudden change in customer actions, could mean the difference between a sale and a lost customer. If the app interfaces with a weather service and detects a sudden cold front moving in, it could deliver discounts on warm clothing like sweaters or coats when a customer enters the store or while the customer sits on the couch looking at the app watching the news.

What if a customer is perusing flights and hotels and an app delivers discounts on seasonally appropriate travel items for the destination, like sunglasses, swimsuits, ski jackets, or more? The app just demonstrated the ability to quickly adapt to behavior, showing the user value by communicating that the app values the customer’s time and wants to provide more value as a result.


Most people consider apps from a bank or other financial institution as a functional tool that gives them known value in convenience managing finances. Now, what if that app also keeps track of other aspects of a customer’s financial situation, like car insurance? The USAA app provides a great example of an app that could provide real-time customizable experiences for a user based on what information the app already has while merging that data with other available information.

Imagine this situation; the app accesses location data and determines that a user is at a bank and may need transportation. An ad for Uber or a taxi appears in the app, offering the user a discount. Even if the customer does not use the coupon, the fact that the app offered the user a service they might have used tells them the financial company values more than the just financial patronage of their establishment.

Another example could provide the customer with a coupon for tax services as the new year dawns, either internally or through a partner service. The customer sees the app offering a seasonal discount right when they are likely to be seeking such services.


Anyone who has traveled and stayed at a hotel most likely saw a stand of brochures in the lobby. As they stand there waiting for their turn at the counter, customers see a variety of local activities offering them experiences they might want to use or were looking for, adding value to their stay. This type of service is a prime example of contextual marketing, as you are unlikely to find a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon while staying in New York City, but very likely to see such offers at hotels in Las Vegas.

A hotel app, with information provided by the user upon registering like favorite foods or activities, can provide specific offers customized to the location. With an itinerary loaded and location data from the phone, the app can deliver personalized ads when the user approaches a specific location, like Uber or Lyft when the user’s plane lands at a destination.

Real-time contextual personalizing offers a company or developer the opportunity to directly communicate to users or customers by offering them something they might use. This kind of adaptability signals the company values the users and wants to make their experience as beneficial as possible. Done correctly, users will flock to the app, as their interactions steadily improve the app’s ability to give them more value. This interaction increases app use and the likelihood the users will tell others about it. This gives a company something very valuable in return: a dedicated sales force they don’t have to pay, one that is interested because they feel valued. It’s a win/win situation for both parties and another step forward in business to consumer efficiency.