Want to know if your website is accessible or not? One of the simplest ways to check is imagining you can’t use a mouse. Go to your website right now and try using only a keyboard to navigate. Use the tab key to move around. Go on, I’ll wait…
Did you know where you were at all times? No? That means whoever built that website likely didn’t take accessibility into account. It’s a flag. It also means if you’re selling a product or service you may be excluding paying customers. And it could be even more serious. I had a friend who is blind who recently couldn’t book a COVID vaccine online because the website didn’t allow it. Try explaining that to the President of the company.
There are many different types of disabilities that people don’t consider disabilities. Take the 1 in 12 men that are colour blind. Put up a map using only colours to convey meaning and they can’t see it. What about older people who find it tough to see small print?
Is It Easy to fix?
The great news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. If a developer simply follows common web standard practices, baking accessibility into the design process is a short step from there. And best of all. We all benefit from accessibility.
Have you ever used closed captioning, something that was developed for those that were deaf? How about cuts in the street curb developed for people in wheelchairs, but also used by mothers with strollers or your grocery cart? Automatic doors? The term we use when accessibility solutions are used by everyone is “the bubble up effect.” You’ll see them everywhere once you start to look.
What are the Steps to Fix
The first step on the accessibility path is a willingness to shift your focus from your company and design team and focus on the visitor. It sounds simple, but after dealing with hundreds of companies over the years I can report that most companies don’t do it. Even though we all go to a website looking for information, most businesses, designers and developers get caught up too much on “the look”. The visitor is second or even lower.
The next step is to dive into discovering who the visitor is, what information they seek and how they need to see it. (Personally, I like the idea of using a cardboard cut-out and giving it a name.) Then simply provide what they require, ensuring accessibility guidelines are followed so you include everyone.
Most who come to us are those companies who have already travelled the accessibility path a bit. They typically want their existing website to be accessible, but don’t know where to begin. We help them by focusing on 3 main areas: Graphic Design, Development, Content. Then it’s time for show and tell. We call that a live audit walk through.
The Live Audit Walkthrough
A live audit is an eye opening one-hour live (and recorded) walkthrough of an important user journey. Its purpose is to shift the focus to the user and demonstrate how they interact with your website. Imagine you’re selling a product or service online. We’ll imitate a visitor and show you the experience along with all the bumps visitors may experience using your website.
For Graphic design, we’ll look at common issues, such as hard to read content due to low contrast. (Low contrast also affects regular mobile phone users trying to see information in sunshine). We also like to remind people that 1 in 12 men are colour blind. We’ll determine if any part uses colour alone to differentiate meaning. Maps are notoriously bad for this.
For development, we can point out how the structure and flow may be putting up barriers. If a developer is part of the live audit group, we can provide insights, guides and tools they can use to help remove the bumps.
For content producers we’ll demonstrate how someone who is blind navigates content. It’s similar to a book, so people are already familiar with a title, table of contents, chapter headings etc. They just don’t realize they need to do it for a website too. The great news is it’s also the same way search engines work, so it’s also good for marketing.
What’s stopping you from making your website inclusive?
With many governments passing laws that require accessible websites, why not start learning a bit about web accessibility? It’s fun, eye opening and by doing so you’ll ensure your website doesn’t exclude anyone unintentionally. In fact, after finishing a one-hour walk through, most companies who discover their websites have barriers want to do something about them. Up to that point, they simply weren’t aware.
To help a bit, about 8 years ago we created the www.webaccessibilityexplained.ca website. When you visit you’ll find information, resources and tools to start you on your journey.
Currently, accessibility is the path less travelled. But if enough of us are willing to travel it, others will follow. So why not start today?