When people ask about web accessibility, they often know more than they realise.

Web accessibility isn’t as hard to understand as you might think. It’s a combination of common sense, empathy and understanding. They’re all traits that most humans share, so you’ve got what you need already!

What is web accessibility in a sentence?

Web accessibility means making your website available to as many people as possible.

Hang on! Isn’t that what you wanted when you built your website? Isn’t that what you asked for when you spent money on an SEO expert to bring you more visitors?

The truth is, until your website is accessible, you are turning away customers and leaving money on the table. According to Fifth Quadrant Analytics, the disability market represents an annual disposable income of $1 trillion—and $544 billion in the US alone.

More and more businesses are developing their online presence because that’s where their customers are. It’s also where your customers are, and it’s where your customers with disabilities are too.

Why do you need an accessible website?

There are three key benefits of having an accessible website:

  1. Your website will comply with your country’s equality law
  2. You’ll save money by working in accessibility on your own terms
  3. You’ll make more money by expanding your customer base

On top of that, there’s the simple fact that you really can’t put a price on making your website accessible to anyone with a disability.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into what web accessibility means, by using a real-life example.

The Common Sense Sweet Shop

Here’s where your inbuilt understanding of web accessibility comes in. Say you run a physical business, a small sweet shop. You have customers walking in off the street every day and you’re doing well. You’d love to do even better. Take a look at your shop. Is there a doorstep that might stop people in wheelchairs getting through your door? Are guide dogs welcome inside?

You wouldn’t imagine running a shop that stopped people with disabilities becoming customers. In fact, you’d soon face legal challenges if you did.

Let’s take the analogy a little deeper. Have you organised your sweets in jars so that they’re easy to find? Have you labelled the jars in clear writing so that people can read them? These are all things that make good business sense as they help your customers buy easily and buy more. You wouldn’t imagine running a business any other way.

Web accessibility really is no different to the Common Sense Sweet Shop. It’s about making your website a place where everyone can become a happy customer. It’s not about adding burdens on yourself, but about removing obstacles from customers.

Many of the principles of web accessibility are small, common sense guidelines that you can start today. Many of them you will already have covered when you designed your website (assuming you labelled your jars correctly when you did).

The truth is, you don’t so much need to ask about web accessibility because it’s the same as everyday accessibility. You just need a little guidance through the rules.

The Inaccessible Sweet Shop

Now, let’s imagine a sweet shop over the road that operates differently. There’s a huge step at the front door that only the tallest people can climb over, the owner sends guide dogs packing and, when you get inside, the owner keeps the lights switched off because he wants to save money. Even if you brought a torch with you, the sweets are in buckets scattered around the shop without any labels.

You’d love to complain, but you can’t find the owner. He might be there in the dark, or he might not, and there are no set opening hours for you to contact him. He’s probably hiding from annoyed ex-customers and the lawyers of several charities.

How long will his business last?

You have users with disabilities

At this point you might be thinking: ‘I don’t have any users with disabilities, no one has ever complained about my website.’ Chances are, no one will complain, they’re already buying from someone else. Do you think the Inaccessible Sweet Shop got any feedback before it went out of business?

Disability affects 19% of working age people in the UK and 19% of all Americans.

Disability on the internet includes things like:

  • Problems with sight
  • Problems using a mouse or keyboard
  • Problems with hearing
  • Problems with reading and understanding

But web accessibility also helps people who:

  • Have a slow internet connection
  • Have a small screen or unusual device
  • Can’t listen to sound at work
  • Use an old web browser or operating system

Web accessibility also helps older users, who might have problems with motor skills, text sizes and hearing (among other things). Within a decade, the United Nations estimates over a billion people in the world will be over 60 years old. Web accessibility protects your website against demographic changes and opens your business to everyone with an internet connection.

Finally, remember that disability is not always permanent; there are many reasons why someone might have a short-term impairment due to illness or accident.

What you can do

So that answers what is web accessibility? Now it’s time to find out what you can do about it.

Over the years, a group of very clever developers have created guidelines that websites can follow to become more accessible. These internationally recognised guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – or WCAG for short.

Read my introduction to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

If you’re based in America, you might be thinking about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act – this is basically Level AA of WCAG 2.0.

Summary

  • Web accessibility is about making your website available to as many users as possible.
  • When you ask what is web accessibility?, you already know more than you realise.
  • Web accessibility is similar to real-life accessibility, it means removing barriers that stop users becoming customers.
  • With disability affecting nearly 20% of people and an ageing population, web accessibility is the future of web development.

Find out more