Web Accessibility – What it is, and why it’s important

By Graham Armfield
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graham-armfield-full02Our guest blog this week is from Graham Armfield of Coolfields who shares his knowledge on web accessibility.

The web has entwined itself into our lives and having an internet connection is no longer seen as a luxury. For many of us it’s a necessity, for running our businesses and social lives.

Lots of companies, like banks, utility companies, supermarkets, etc are increasingly encouraging us (or pushing us) to deal with them online – perhaps because of the perceived cost savings.

But using the web for finance, online shopping, social interaction, or even looking up train times, is not always easy for those who are getting older, and those with disabilities or impairments. Typically, people might have:

  • Sight problems – ranging from poor vision, colour blindness, through to total blindness
  • Motor impairments – loss of use of hands/arms, and conditions like Parkinsons that make using a mouse difficult or impossible
  • Hearing problems – deafness, or sensitivity to background noise
  • Cognitive impairments – dyslexia, ADHD, autism, language impairments

And when you take all these people into account, the numbers start to stack up. In the UK, nearly 2 million have a sight impairment, about 2 million have hearing impairments, about 2 million are dyslexic, and over 2.5 million have difficulties using their hands. The list goes on.

Turning to revenue, there are reports estimating that people with disabilities and impairments represent a market worth about £80 billion in the UK alone – rising to £320 billion across the EU.

So if you run a website for your business, would it matter to you if a substantial number of people couldn’t easily access your site? Would you be missing out on potential customers for your products or services? And what if those people could more easily access your competitors’ websites?

Well that’s where web accessibility comes in. It’s perfectly possible to build an attractive and interactive website that can be easily accessed by the vast majority of people. It’s down to aspects of the design of a site, and the underlying programming code that puts your site on your customers’ web browsers, whether that’s on a desktop computer, laptop or mobile phone.
The problem is, accessibility is often overlooked by website developers who just may not know the techniques needed, or understand their importance. The other side of the coin is that businesses who commission a new website don’t always ask their website developers about accessibility.

Legal requirement

As well as the potential revenue that inaccessible websites might be losing, there is also the issue of the law.
Under the Equality Act (2010), service providers are obliged to make their websites accessible to disabled users, and to make reasonable adjustments to resolve any access issues. This applies to commercial sites as well as public service sites, and legal cases have been brought – most recently against budget airline BMI Baby.

So how do I know if my website is accessible?

This is a question I’m often asked, and the good news is that there are some tests that everyone can do to check whether their website is accessible. Some quick tests include:

  • Checking that you can easily get to all of your website using just the keyboard – no mouse allowed.
  • Checking that all your links are informative – using just ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ is not enough.
  • If you’ve used videos on your site, have they got captions or subtitles?
  • Can you resize the text on your website without it breaking your design?
  • Checking that all movement on your website pages can be stopped.

However some aspects of website accessibility can’t be checked without using development tools, or the assistive software that some people use to browse the web – eg screen readers, or voice recognition software.

What should I tell my web developer?

If you’re commissioning a website it’s certainly worth ensuring that it’s accessible to as many people as possible. Ask your developer if they’ve built accessible websites before, and how they intend to test that the website is accessible once they’ve built it. If your developer knows what they’re doing, an accessible website shouldn’t cost significantly more than one that isn’t.

Like to know more?

At Coolfields Consulting we help organisations of all sizes improve the accessibility of their websites and reach more potential customers. We can take a look at your existing website and report on the accessibility issues found. Alternatively, if you’re starting out with a new website we can check the designs and advise and train your developers on how to build the website in an accessible way.

For more information, you can contact us on 01484 856613 or via email on [email protected]

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