Accessibility: What it takes to achieve the highest level of accessibility while understanding and managing the trade-offs
Why is Accessibility important?
Every website has its target audience and site owners who always want to make sure their site attracts as many visitors as possible from its target audience. One way to achieve this is to make sure the web resources can be used by everyone. According to the 2010 Census Bureau Report, approximately 20% of web users in the US have a disability and 54% of all adults living with a disability go online. If we do not take the time to understand their needs and address them, we potentially ignore a huge portion of the population.
American federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA) requires equal treatment of people with disabilities in public accommodations online as well as offline. If the web/software product is not disabled-friendly and does not abide by accessibility regulations (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Disabilities Acts, Section 508), the company runs the risk of being sued. In one of the latest cases, Domino’s Pizza was told its website and mobile app had to be made fully accessible to blind people, after losing a legal case in the US (Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, No. 18-1539).
In a perfect world, everyone should be able to use any website on the internet. It should not matter if they have a medical condition that affects their capabilities or what hardware and software they need to use. This is the main idea behind the concept of web accessibility. But there are many challenges that need to be overcome to meet this goal.
Where is the trick?
To come up with standards that websites and businesses must meet to be deemed web-accessible, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as part of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), has come up with a number of standards collectively known as W3C Accessibility Standards. Depending on which requirements are met, the website could be deemed as “A”, “AA” or “AAA” conformant. And this is when the most challenging part begins, not only for the development team but for the customers themselves – even if they don’t realize it yet.
Very often businesses are not fully aware of what is behind the requirements to be Accessibility Compliant. Many do not realize that adding just a single letter to their standards compliance, they may have to completely change the entire concept of its web site as well as its content. This may lead to extensive re-engineering which could be very expensive.
When reviewing accessibility guidelines with the customer, everyone needs to be on the same page, understanding each of the guidelines and agreeing on what level needs to be achieved and what tools and metrics will be acceptable. It is very important to educate the business/customer on what the limitations and guidelines of web accessibility are. The business needs to understand that accessibility starts with content and design, and is not only limited to the technical implementation and addition of ARIA labels.
Example 1: A close button (X) in a pop-up box
<div id="box"> This is a pop-up box. <button aria-label="Close" onclick="document.getElementById('box').style.display='none';" class="close-button">X</button> </div>
Example Markup Source – W3C.org
Example 2: A phone number with multiple fields
<div role="group" aria-labelledby="groupLabel"> <span id="groupLabel>Work Phone</span> +<input type="number" aria-label="country code"> <input type="number" aria-label="area code"> <input type="number" aria-label="subscriber number"> </div>
It can be very difficult to find the right balance. While everyone will want to meet the highest accessibility standard possible, accessibility requirements for these standards pose some limitations to design.
When it comes to accessibility, it’s very important to ensure that knowledge and expertise are spread across the team. Every member of the team should understand the responsibilities to achieve the end goal. Since accessibility development spreads into all spheres of web and mobile applications, you’ll need the entire development team involved. Start with Creatives/UX folks to review and create designs that follow accessibility guidelines. Your Business Analysts need to make sure functional requirements comply with accessibility guidelines. Quality Assurance teams must test and provide a final report on what requirements have been met. And lastly, Content and SEO specialists have to ensure site content is following the accessibility guidelines.
Also, it is important to remember that accessibility-related defects are expensive to fix, so it is essential to identify them as soon as possible.
There are a variety of tools that claim to help in testing accessibility guidelines, however even the most advanced of them, including commercial versions, only cover at best approximately 30% of the accessibility requirements. This means that the vast majority of requirements will require a lot of manual testing and if a team relies purely on automation, they may incur unexpected costs.
So…what I’m saying is there’s no silver bullet when it comes to accessibility!
The best way to set yourself—and your project—up for accessibility success is to ask questions. Whenever a customer comes and asks you to meet a certain level of accessibility, please make sure they understand exactly what it will cost them, in terms of money, time and resources. Once you have these answers, you can deliver an accessibility strategy that is comprehensive, compliant and compelling.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to accessibility!