By Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant, AbilityNet
Is your website accessible and user-friendly? You probably don't know, as is the case with many, many other website editors or business owners. But, it's likely you're cutting off millions of potential users with the way you've created your site. And, you're quite possibly breaking the law.
Ethics of inclusive design
Most people wouldn't knowingly exclude anyone from having access to your app based on their disability but let's switch things around. Many believe the reason a blind person can't read a site is because they can't see it, but if coded with accessibility in mind, that person could read the site.
It might also be assumed, for example, that someone is struggling to complete a web form because physical disabilities mean they can't use a keyboard. But disability is the outcome of the interaction between a person and the environmental and attitudinal barriers they may face, is how AbilityNet sees it.
So actually case the most common reason that a blind person cannot read a web page because the developers built the page without proper semantic markup. This can be fixed by educating the developers. Somebody cannot complete a form because it was not tested with people with disabilities. This can be addressed by ensuring disabilities are represented in the testing process.
Accessible design is the law
In addition to the ethical angle, is the legal aspect. The Equality Act (2010) states that organisations must make a reasonable effort to ensure that their application/website is accessible.
The lack of clarity about what constitutes 'reasonable' is deliberate, and provides some flexibility in interpretation. My interpretation is that what's reasonable depends on resources. A large multinational would be expected to have a proportionally larger amount of resource to devote to ensuring accessibility than a sole trader.
How to ensure your website is accessible
1. Do a Global Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) check
There are guidelines that can be followed (and in my view, adopting WCAG AA conformance is likely to be sufficient to be seen to be making a reasonable effort). The WCAG web accessibility guidelines provide a definite benefit in the structured way they layout the different areas of concern, and solutions or expected results, regarding many accessibility issues.
2. Carry out diverse user testing
On top of this, testing your website with a diverse group of users, not website consultants, or designers, will get the best results. So get them involved. You can do this yourself or you can look to outsource this – we undertake user testing at our London usability labs.
Does good accessibility mean bad design?
As an accessibility consultant I want sites to be fully accessible but it's counterproductive to issue an edict overruling any and all design decisions in the interests of accessibility. This serves only to alienate people and further the (albeit mis-held) belief that good accessibility and good design are mutually exclusive.
At AbilityNet we find some middle ground where the accessibility requirements are met, but solutions are arrived at through discussion with the design, and other relevant teams to ensure their needs are balanced as well. This way, it can be demonstrated that accessibility can be inclusive with design and other disciplines.