Putting focus on web accessibility

As a general principle, the web is freely accessible to everyone.

But while the web is open to anyone, it’s largely been a barrier to those less fortunate. Those with accessibility challenges through a wide range of visual, hearing, physical, and other impairments.

Accessibility for the disabled is generally associated with physical environments such as airports, schools, and restaurants. But you may not be aware that it applies to the digital world as well. Specifically, the websites we interact with every day of our lives.

There’s a very serious problem with poor accessibility over the web. For US public institutions, websites are required to follow accessibility guidelines for those with disabilities, under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

But the unfortunate reality is that beyond public entities, websites generally fail in providing adequate accessibility for those with impairments.

I’ve been hearing more and more about the need to address this problem within the WordPress community, at local meetups and WordCamps (local WordPress conferences).

But it’s not just a problem for WordPress. It’s incumbent on all web developers, and also businesses owners to practice good and proper website access for all. It’s also something UX professionals should be eagerly addressing.

So, what exactly are the issues with website accessibility? Here are some of the most prominent:

  • Poor readability emanating from low contrast between the text and its background
  • Inability to navigate throughout a webpage through just the keyboard (no mouse or trackpad)
  • Incompatibility with screen readers – a prominent example being images lacking “alt=” text descriptions
  • Use of colors in imagery and graphics without proper consideration for those with color blindness

Despite debate over whether ADA regulations apply to websites, the US Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that ADA accessibility laws do apply to publicly accessible websites, in a prominent case against Domino’s Pizza brought forth by a blind person.

California and other states have been actively enforcing web accessibility requirements vis-à-vis the ADA. In recent years, there’s been an incredible surge of lawsuits filed against businesses for having problematic websites.

Monetary penalties for accessibility violations are substantial, and can be issued to both the website owner and the contracted web developer. (I’m not a lawyer so respectfully, I won’t comment further.)

It’s time to start taking this seriously, everyone. My recommended starting point to learn more? Ethan Marcotte’s discussion on his blog. Marcotte is among the most well-respected web developers in the world, so his sentiments should speak volumes.

Need another recommendation? Hop onto the WordPress channel on YouTube, and look for relevant WordCamp presentations by searching under “web accessibility.”