The importance of web content accessibility

Web content accessibility is a global initiative

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) cover a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following the guidelines will make our content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following [the] guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Why website accessibility is important?

Accessibility: usability/human factor plus design plus ability /differences equals great user experience. The graphic includes icons representing a human thinking, a ruler and pencil, and an eye.

If a website is accessible, all users are able to access the content and understand it. Most developed countries have adopted WCAG 2.o guidelines, in Australia it is mandatory for all government-funded organisations’ websites to be accessible. Some web developers consider accessibility guidelines a time-consuming nuisance: at best this is ignorance; at worse it is negligent and unprofessional.

Websites that are not accessible discriminate against some users

People with a vision or a hearing impairment may not receive the same information or get the same experience as other users of a website. If a website does not comply with content accessibility standards, elements and functionality may not work for some users. For example:

  • if an online form is not accessible, people relying a screen reader will not be able to interact effectively with the form, and therefore they’re unable to complete the fields correctly before submitting the form

  • audio-video content will be of no use to someone who has difficulty in hearing — unless closed captions are included with the video to make it accessible for people with hearing difficulties.

Accessibility can benefit people whose abilities are changing due to ageing, as well as those with temporary disabilities such as recent eye surgery.

Content accessibility benefits everyone — and your website’s SEO

There’s evidence that websites that meeting accessibility standards offer all users a better user experience. For example, you might be in a:

  • noisy, open plan and shared environment in which case you'd be experiencing some of the difficulties experienced by users with hearing impairments

  • room with low-light and therefore be experiencing visual difficulties because of poor colour contrast used in the website design — in the same way as some with a visual impairment might experience all the time. 

A good user experience also benefits a website’s search engine optimisation (SEO) because people engage with the content, stay on the website longer. An accessible website is well-structured. Search engines take note of headings and ALT tags, attributes of a well-structured website.

How do we make websites accessible?

A quote and photo of Einstein: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Web accessibility guidelines include writing content that is clear and concise, and easy to understand. Other integrations include:

  • add meaningful ALT tags to images so that a screen reader offers users a description of the image

  • structuring web content with headings that are correctly sequenced to present logical and contextually related content

  • embed hyperlinks into contextually relevant text — don’t just copy and paste URLs into your content

  • choosing the right colours in your colour palette. Avoid pale or neon colours, or poorly contrasted backgrounds and fonts.

  • integrating closed captions into video content

  • responsive style sheets to enable good presentation of content and functionality on mobile devices.

The principles of web content accessibility

The four main guiding principles of accessibility of WCAG 2.0 are:

  • Perceivable (includes chosen website colour palette; font size etc.)

  • Operable (includes online forms, links, call-to-actions etc. that all uses find easy to use)

  • Understandable (content that's easy to understand and follow)

  • Robust (webpage and website structure).

By creating content according to these principles, we are doing our best to ensure that everyone in our audience groups gain access to the information on our website. By doing so, we actually create content that is structured and designed in a way that improves the online user experience for everyone.

Angela HoskinsSite Content