Every day, most of us access our favourite websites without too much difficulty. We click on links, interact with forms, read articles, and watch videos. We use the web to do our banking, manage our businesses and finances, connect with loved ones, or simply pass the time. The internet has become central to our lives, and its ease and accessibility is something we often take for granted.
For a large percentage of people on the planet, the web is an entirely different place. Watching videos without the appropriate subtitles is challenging for the 430 million people with an auditory impairment. And understanding all the content on a screen is a difficult proposition for over two billion people living with a visual impairment, never mind trying to navigate a website.
And while there are many solutions that businesses can implement to make their websites accessible to those with disabilities, many don’t. This ends up affecting more than people with disabilities and how they use websites—it affects everyone.
How Accessibility Affects Business
Like every other visitor that finds their way to your site, disabled users are potential customers, and it’s just as critical for them to be able to access your site the same as everyone else. In fact, people with disabilities are far more likely to purchase a product or service from a company with an accessible website.
But the impact of making your website more accessible goes much further than only providing for those with disabilities. There’s a huge number of people that aren’t disabled who also benefit from accessibility best practices.
The Curb-Cut Effect
The curb-cut effect refers to the fact that designs created to benefit disabled people often end up being used by a much larger group. It gets its name from the impact that curb ramps have on pedestrian mobility. What was originally intended for people in wheelchairs ended up being beneficial for a much bigger chunk of the population. People pulling heavy carts, travelers carrying luggage, parents pushing strollers, and even skateboarders all benefit from cement curb ramps.
The web is no different. Many of the accessibility techniques and practices benefit people using mobile phones, smartwatches, TVs, or other devices with smaller screens and different input methods. And people with slower internet connections or limited bandwidth benefit from these practices too. And there are still others, including:
- People with non-disabled limitations, such as light or audio sensitivity
- People with temporary impacts to how they use the web by things like lost glasses or a broken arm
- Older people with different usability standards
But it goes even further than this. Building your website with accessibility in mind also has an enormous impact on your non-human visitors. And no, we don’t mean your customer’s pets—we’re talking about search engine crawlers.
SEO and Accessibility
For those that don’t know, Google and other search engines use crawlers to index and rank the entirety of the web. These bits of software regularly visit and crawl websites to parse their content, determine how usable and relevant it is, and, ultimately, decide how well it ranks.
To parse the information efficiently, your website needs to meet certain standards. Often referred to as technical SEO, these standards include:
- Meaningful title and subtitle tags
- Accurate and understandable image alt tags
- Descriptive links
- Organized URL structure
- Accurate XML sitemaps
- And much more
While these things helps Google better understand and rank your page, they also improve accessibility for people using screen readers or other assistive devices. In other words, making your website accessible for those with disabilities also directly improves how well it organically ranks for search engines. And if that weren’t enough, Google also uses these same methods to assign your website a usability rating, which—you guessed it—affects how well it ranks.
Legal Reasons for Accessibility
Aside from better business all around, there are legal reasons to focus on how accessible your website is. As the internet grows, it becomes more and more crucial for everyone’s day-to-day life. Because of this, many countries around the world are addressing accessibility issues through legislation.
In the U.S., people with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. This act prohibits discrimination in public places based on disability. It’s the laws that ensure people have access to the same curb ramps mentioned above. More and more, this legislation applies to websites and website usability.
For example, in 2012, Netflix was sued over accessibility in what would prove to be a landmark case. In it, the judge ruled that services that existed online weren’t exempt from ADA requirements. At the time, it was a relatively new development, but it’s gone on to affect numerous businesses in recent years.
Here in Canada, there are similar developments. The Accessible Canada Act, assented in 2019, helps the Government of Canada fulfill its promise of introducing accessibility legislation with the assistance of disabled people and communities. This act provides for the development of standards in accessibility and gives the government the means to work with stakeholders and disabled people to create regulations across various industries.
Accessibility is an ongoing process—it’s not a project you do and then forget about. As a business owner, it should be an important part of your digital strategy to ensure that every individual, disability or not, can access your website efficiently and effectively.
Everyone across the board benefits from an accessible and usable website. As the internet becomes more commonplace across the globe, it’s evolving into a human right rather than a privilege, and regardless of the benefits in business or legal requirements, we should work to make the web accessible for all because it’s the right thing to do.
Creating accessible websites can be intimidating, but adhering to these standards ensures your website works well for all of your visitors. If you’d like to take steps to making your website easy to use for everyone, our expert web designers can guide you through the entire process.