I’ve spoken a lot in the last couple of years to groups throughout my home town of Wichita, KS, on how to build an effective marketing website. While I try to distill the many nuances that go into building a great website into an hour-long presentation that is entertaining and informative, I always make sure to at least touch on accessibility for the web.
While I often get their attention to its importance by highlighting the many lawsuits medium and large companies are facing throughout the US because their websites are not accessible, the reason to care about digital accessibility goes far beyond avoiding a lawsuit.
Web Accessibility is Simply the Best Practice
Let’s talk for a second about videos on the internet. Remember a few years ago when you were scrolling on Facebook and you had to annoyingly turn on the sound in a crowded room (or just skipped the video entirely) in order to know what was going on? Now, most videos you come across have captions because about 80% of us watch videos without the sound on. Marketers figured that out and we started captioning all the videos we could.
What most of us don’t think about is the fact that so many others could now watch those videos with us that couldn’t before. Anyone with hearing loss suddenly was able to be part of conversations like they couldn’t before. Marketers and content creators were reaching a whole new customer base, and making sure they were included in the conversation (even if it was unintentional at first).
Digital Accessibility Extends Beyond Video
Now that we’ve gotten better about including more people in the conversation with videos online, think about how someone who has any kind of vision problem navigates the internet. Many browsers come with a screen reader or there are programs that literally read the internet to you. When a website isn’t built for those screen readers in mind, it means you’re cutting a huge portion of the population out of the conversation again.
And the crazy thing is, accessibility on your website can be improved with small changes. Simple things like using alt tags for your images properly, ensuring that you have decent contrast between your font and background colors (important for low-vision users), or including a transcript of audio files or videos on your website can go a long way to making your website more accessible.
Accessibility Improves Your SEO
The awesome thing is that good accessibility practices tend to overlap with UX and SEO best practices. If you need a reason to convince your boss (or even yourself) to spend the money for an accessibility review, point out that accessible websites tend to perform better on Google.
Think about it – an automated screen reader needs to be able to read your site and help a person navigate your site more easily. Google’s automated tools also need to be able to crawl your website easily. The simple things like including an alt tag in your image (to tell what the image includes) not only helps that differently-abled user, it also tells Google what’s in that image.
Be careful of keyword stuffing in those alt tags. Your goal here should be to describe the image and its context with the rest of your website copy, NOT get quick points for SEO. After all, Google’s aim is to provide their customers with a best experience. It’s always possible that down the line websites can be punished for keyword stuffing in their image alt tags.
Focus on Your User
The key thing here (and well, in all website best practices) is to focus first on your user. Your user base may have a totally different set of abilities to you, and your goal should be to not exclude anyone from a good experience with your website, whether they’re browsing it differently than your “norm” or not. After all, don’t you want your customer pool to be as large as it can be?
There are great companies out there who work in providing digital accessibility reviews, and we happen to have a great resource in Wichita through Envision’s BVI Workforce Innovation Center for digital accessibility reviews.
If you need any help in understanding a full accessibility review or want some quick estimates on things you can do to improve your own web accessibility, I’m here to help!