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Web Accessibility: What is it and why is it important?

Posted by Megan Jones at 12:48 pm on July 16th, 2020 | 0 comments

Everyone is talking about accessibility - accessible websites and accessible forms. But other than a general idea of what people are referring to, do you really know what web accessibility is - and crucially, why it is important?

In this article, we cover the main whats, whos, and whys, of accessibility. We explain in detail what accessibility is, who is affected by websites that aren’t accessible, and why your business needs to ensure your forms are fully-accessible to your audience.

Let’s get started…

What is Accessibility?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) states that “Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them”.

However, ‘disability’ doesn’t just refer to people with sight or hearing loss (which is often people’s first thoughts when it comes to web accessibility).

The mission of W3C is to “make the web available to all people , whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.’

By ensuring all websites are accessible to all, the internet becomes fair and inclusive, allowing everyone access to the content, information, and opportunities that the web provides. As Web accessibility experts Level Level argues that “Everyone benefits from improved web accessibility.”

So what might prevent people from accessing the web? Let’s find out…

Why Might People Have Trouble Accessing the Web?

Over 20% of all people using the web will have issues fully accessing the websites and the content they need.

Accessibility encompasses a broad range of issues that affect access to the web - from disabilities, including temporary disabilities, to situational limitations, and issues with technology or the internet. Let’s take a look…

Disabilities:

  • Visual - Blindness and other visual impairments including cataract, glaucoma, and colorblindness can all affect how well users are able to access the web.

  • Auditory - There are a diverse range of hearing impairments that can affect web accessibility, from profound deafness to loss of hearing in old age.

  • Cognitive - This can involve issues with memory, language, thinking, and judgement, which can all affect web navigation.

  • Physical - Mobility and physical impairments can prevent users from easily browsing the web or inputting data.

These are just some of the disabilities that can impact a user’s access to the web. Further web accessibility issues include:

  • Temporary Disabilities - Broken bones, lost glasses, tiredness, this list is endless!

  • Situational Limitations - Bright sunlight, time restrictions, a situation where you can’t listen to audio, etc.

  • Devices - Mobiles, smartwatches, and other devices with small screens or using old technology, as well as assistive technology including screen readers and speech operated software, all alter a user’s web experience.

  • Internet - Slow internet, poor connection, or limited bandwidth quickly restricts web accessibility.

Arguments for Improving Web Accessibility

Accessibility is an important issue for many different reasons and on many levels. These include: Ethical, Business, and Legal.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn…

Ethical

The first, and key argument for accessibility, takes an ethical standpoint.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community - it’s guiding vision is to ‘lead the Web to its full potential.’ As in the physical world, the W3C is working towards a fair and inclusive web for all, whatever your individual situation or needs.

When the web is fully accessible, barriers that prevent people with disabilities contributing to, or joining in with, the physical world are removed. Full web accessibility also ensures that everyone has the same opportunities and are treated equally online - something that we should all be striving toward.

Business

If the ethical standpoint isn’t enough to win you over on the importance of web accessibility, then the business argument for accessibility may help. As mentioned, on average 20% of all traffic to your website will have issues accessing your content - if your site is inaccessible, that is a lot of potential customers that you have missed out on.

Accessible websites also perform better across the board too. By using universal design strategies (strategies that ensure everyone can access your site) your site becomes more user friendly to all, not just those with disabilities.

This will ultimately improve your site’s performance - whether this is communicating messages and information more clearly, streamlining site navigation, collecting leads, or selling products.

Legal

If your website isn’t fully accessible then it could be considered discriminatory towards those with disabilities. Depending on your country and state, and where your audience is located, this could leave you open to lawsuits.

You will find that laws on accessible websites differ greatly - for example, Government and public sector websites have to adhere to much stricter accessibility laws than some other industries. However, it is crucial that you research accessibility laws and guidelines in your country and for your business sector to ensure that your site is complying with regulations - and make the necessary changes if not.

Making Your Website More Accessible Right Away

W3C has produced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (known as WCAG 2.1) which are internationally recognized guidelines for improving web accessibility. These guidelines are extensive, and you may need to work with accessibility professionals to get your website up to scratch.

However, below we share a few top tips to help you make your website more accessible right away…

  • Add Alt Text to All Images - Alternative text replaces the image if an image fails to load. However, it is also used by screen readers to help users ‘read’ the image. Therefore, when filling out the Alt text, make sure it clearly describes the graphic.

  • Give Links Unique and Descriptive Names - Links should always be underlined and given a meaningful name so screen readers can easily identify the links within the content.

  • Provide Captions for Videos and Transcripts for Audio - Captions, transcripts, and other text alternatives for video and audio on your site will ensure that users with visual and auditory impairments can still access the content.

  • Choose Colors Carefully - Make sure the colors on your site contrast well so it is possible for everyone to distinguish between different content elements on your page. It is also important not to use color alone to convey information. For example, a form that uses color to identify a required field should also use some other kind of indicator - ie, an asterisk - so all users can see which fields are required for form submission.

  • Use Tables for Tabular Data, Not for Layout - Tables used for layout purposes can cause confusion for visitors using screen readers. Limit table use to data only, and follow these W3C Table Guidelines.

  • Use an Accessible Form Builder - It is essential that the forms on your website are accessible to all your visitors, enabling users to get in contact, sign up to a service, purchase products, and any other action that includes entering their data and submitting a form. Using a form builder that has the functionality to allow you to create accessible forms is a must for all websites.

To find out more about making your website accessible, check out W3C’s Easy Checks. This will help you audit your website and give you a good starting point for the necessary improvements you will need to make.

Accessibility and Gravity Forms

Announcing Gravity Forms Version 2.5

Gravity Forms is committed to accessibility. The latest upcoming release of Gravity Forms 2.5 has a key focus on accessibility, and we have worked with Rian Rietveld and her team at Level Level to solidify our position as the most accessible form builder on the market.

2.5 is currently available as a beta and can be downloaded from within your Gravity Forms dashboard. For more information on 2.5 and the beta period, check out the docs.

Okay, this is fine and good, and I suggest folks unfamiliar with the topic take a look.

But you know I’ve got something to say!

Okay, this graphic:

This is just bonkers. This image serves no purpose except to highlight a person’s quoted idea on the topic, and it is trapped in an image…

What does that mean?

  • I can’t read it if that image doesn’t work for me (such as when I’m on my mobile device)
  • I can’t copy and paste the text
  • I can’t search for the text
  • I can’t translate the text

Given that it is essentially invisible to text-based readers, what is the alt text say?

![Web Accessibility Level Level|1198x522](upload://pXl3rRxKmxmZteDp5HhGLHjREzl.jpeg)

Web Accessibility Level Level

:woman_facepalming:

First of all, Level Level is a cute af name for a thing. Second of all, it makes no sense without context.

The best thing would have been to type our the quote and use any of a myriad elements to mark it up as a thing it is, such as an aside, or a blockquote. Text.

Anyhow, love GravityForms, makes WordPress funner, and they really are on top of accessibility. This is what I tell clients all the time: I can build you a tool that follows the rules, but it won’t generate your content, and that’s why you need to know about accessibility.

:crazy_face: