Imagine, if you will, you’re an aspiring actor in NYC working as a waiter. You’re running late, but you forgot your white shirt. You buy what you think is a white shirt, only to have your fellow servers ask you why you’re wearing a pink(!) shirt.
That was me. I am one of the millions of people who suffer from a color vision impairment. Mine is fairly innocuous: I have red-green color blindness. However, there are people who have quite severe visual, hearing, and physical challenges impacting easy access to digital information. All of us can use our resources to ensure their experience on the web or mobile devices need not be an impediment.
Wrap your head around these stats
According to Fifth Quadrant Analytics, individuals with disabilities is the next big consumer segment — worldwide composed of 1.3 billion people with dexterity, cognition or sensory (vision and hearing) challenges. Globally this segment represents $1 trillion in annual disposable income with $544 billion in the U.S. alone.
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, more than 240 business nationwide have been sued in federal court in 2015-2016, with claims that websites are not accessible. Companies included Foot Locker, Toys “R” Us, Brooks Brothers Group, the National Basketball Association, Family Video Movie Club and Rue21. Furthermore, Seyfarth Shaw LLP saw an unprecedented number of website accessibility lawsuits in 2017 filed in federal and state courts. Plaintiffs filed at least 814 federal lawsuits about allegedly inaccessible websites.
The path to digital accessibility is known
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) works to develop web guidelines. They have compiled these guidelines, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to specify how to make content accessible, primarily for people with disabilities. Let’s take a look at the four WCAG principles and the ways we test them. We use software that allows us to check for accessibility compliance such as screen readers, color contrast checkers, speech to text, code checkers, etc.
Principle 1: Perceivable
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Simply put, provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language. For example, screen readers are used to test web or mobile pages to assess if what we can see on the page can be translated to the spoken word and that those spoken words match the actual text on the page. This includes banners, links, headers, buttons, all text, etc. While testing for accessibility, I’ve seen some outstanding pages and some dreadfully non-accessible pages.
Principle 2: Operable
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
Some examples are: make all functionality available via keyboard, provide users enough time to read and use content, and do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (obvious, yes?). Also, provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are in the site or app. Instead of the mouse or trackpad, an individual with motor skills challenges should be able to use only the keyboard to interact with the website. Instead of a mouse, the keyboard is used for actions such as (a) using the tab/shift+tab key to jump from link to link on the page, (b) hitting enter to activate a link, (c) using the space bar/shift+space bar to scroll up and down the page, or (d) hitting the spacebar to expand a dropdown menu. If the mouse can do it, the keyboard should be able to do it too.
Principle 3: Understandable
Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
It’s important to make text content readable and understandable, make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways, and help users avoid and correct mistakes. One example of an accessibility issue is entering a date through a calendar pop-up. Why is this a problem? When inputting information or interacting with a control on a page, avoid pop-up windows that are not accessible by assistive technologies, a change in keyboard focus, or any other change that can confuse the user. Remember, we want to make the user experience enjoyable, not confusing resulting in the user abandoning the website or mobile application.
Principle 4: Robust
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
To maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies, the content must follow conventions and be compatible with APIs so that assistive technologies can more easily work with new technologies as they evolve. In content implemented using markup languages, elements have complete start and end tags. Screen readers let the user know where the start and end tags of page elements are located.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect,” according to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web. It’s the perfect time for companies to take those extra steps to ensure people with disabilities can take full advantage of everything the web has to offer. I’m ready! Are you?