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Web accessibility in a post-Covid world: More important than ever for small businesses

When it comes to web accessibility, small and medium-sized businesses should take note of two key points. First, that despite the fact that World Wide Web Consortium Guidelines relating to accessibility are over ten years old, less than 10% of websites are fully compliant. Second, during the coronavirus pandemic, web usage has soared by nearly 70%.

As a small business owner or manager, it is in your interest to make your site accessible. More and more companies are shifting online, driven by a desire to increase sales, reach new customers, and replace losses incurred as a result of Covid-19. Ensuring that your site accommodates disabled users will increase your market reach and remove the possibility of resource-draining lawsuits.

What is web accessibility?

“Accessible” web sites are usable by individuals that have disabilities or temporary impairments. Web accessibility is a broad term that encompasses the process of conceiving, designing, and maintaining a website that is compatible with assistive technology and which can be modified by people with conditions such as poor-sightedness, epilepsy, ADHD, and so on.

Most countries have laws regarding web accessibility. In the USA, the “Americans With Disabilities Act” is the main piece of legislation. It has various European and global counterparts. This act has often been used to bring lawsuits against companies that flout accessibility guidelines.

What’s more, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) regularly updates a set of publicly-available, detailed instructions called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Why does web accessibility matter post-Covid?

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with me?” And it’s a fair question. The benefits of web accessibility aren’t immediately apparent to many small business owners. But taking steps to ensure compliance is worthwhile for a number of reasons.

Here’s a quick overview of the main points:
  • Failure to comply with guidelines can lead to legal issues - A large number of companies have had to deal with costly lawsuits, which were brought against them for failure to make their sites accessible. There have been several high-profile cases in the US, and well-known companies, including Netflix, have been targeted.
  • Making your website accessible allows you to reach new clients - This point is particularly relevant because more people are opting to shop online. By failing to make your website accessible, you’re needlessly shutting yourself off from potentially lucrative clients, and likely gifting them to your competitors. Most small businesses have suffered in some way because of Covid-19, making it all the more imperative to drive as much online revenue as possible as foot traffic remains low.
  • Designing your website for greater accessibility is a relatively straightforward and inexpensive process - Many small business owners and managers wrongly think that the process of making their websites accessible will be complex and expensive. In almost all cases, this view is wrong. Building an accessible website doesn’t require large amounts of resources, and is made easier by online tools and integrations which do most of the heavy lifting.
  • Catering for disabled users is inclusive and ethical - It’s worth keeping in mind that accommodating disabled users, along with individuals that have difficulties interacting with “normal” site designs, is an empathetic and morally upstanding thing to do. Focusing more closely on accessibility will fit with most companies’ values and missions.
Optimizing your website for accessibility: a checklist for small and medium companies

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re just getting started with web accessibility. But there’s no need to be worried. For most businesses, building an accessible website is a straightforward task. And maintaining it needn’t be a hassle, either.

Here’s a quick checklist for businesses that are new to the topic of web accessibility but eager to make their sites compliant:
  • Use an accessibility tool - Accessibility tools are out-of-the-box apps that can be installed on a website’s servers to provide near-instant accessibility. The market leader in this space, accessiBe, provides a tool that regularly scans websites on which it is installed and automatically makes any necessary design changes to ensure compliance with guidelines. After installation, browsers will also have access to an array of customization options. They will be able to make image colours brighter, stop flashing images, mute sounds, and more.
  • Include alt tags on all non-decorative images - The term “alt text” refers to small snippets of text which are included in “alt tags” in the HTML of an image. For blind or sight-impaired individuals that are using a screen reader, alt text is very important. It’s essential to include alt tags on visual elements that are necessary for understanding the meaning of a page, such as graphs, charts, and infographics,
  • Ensure your site is keyboard navigable - Browsers that are unable to use a traditional mouse will often navigate a page with a keyboard. Ensuring that menu items respond to keyboard shortcuts and that page links follow a logical order will enable keyboard navigation.
  • Use ARIA attributes - Accessible Rich Internet Attributes are attributes that supplement native HTML functionality. They are included in a site’s CSS file and are indispensable from a development standpoint.

Companies that make their websites accessible can expect an array of benefits. They will reach more clients and eliminate the possibility of lawsuits while accommodating users that are often excluded from the web. What’s more, inexpensive and easy-to-use tools can streamline the whole process. Where are the downsides?

30 Oct 2020 15:18