As a web professional who had been building sites for a few years, I remember feeling something in the air in 2015. Something in the industry had changed. In 2014, if Spring Insight built a website that wasn’t mobile-responsive (able to change sizes based on the size of the web browser used to view it) it was ok.
Sure, the nonresponsive website wouldn’t be state-of-the-art, but I wasn’t embarrassing myself. Then, 2015 hit and that changed. You built a nonresponsive site in 2015? You were an asshole and your client should be ashamed for hiring you.
This year I am feeling that same “static” in the air around website handicap accessibility. Spring Insight delivered websites in 2021 that were not accessible. That stops in 2022. Starting now, we will not deliver any website without considering website accessibility best practices.
What is Website Accessibility?
So, what is website accessibility? Basically, it is creating a website with the proper colors, tools, and coding so that anyone, regardless of any auditory, cognitive, neurological, speech, or visual difficulties, can not only visit the site, but navigate it and process the information contained.
The specifics of what makes a website accessible are extensive and beyond the scope of this article. They include utilizing colors properly (with sufficient contrast), images with descriptive alt text, functionality through mouse and keyboard, captioning for videos, and skip navigation. If you want to get into the gritty bits of understanding accessibility, the Web Accessibility Initiative is a great place to start.
Why Should Small Businesses Care About Accessibility?
Now, let’s get into the meat of what I want to talk to you about today. I started this blog by telling you that Spring Insight cares about website accessibility. Now I am going to tell you why you should as well.
1. You’re a caring person.
If you are reading this blog, it suggests that you are an intellectually curious person. You are consuming content from a website strategy firm from Bethesda, Maryland instead of an article on TMZ about the latest with the Kardashians. Being intellectually curious suggests you are empathetic. Being empathetic means that you actually care about the feelings of others and want to do the right thing. The right thing is making sure that anyone that comes to your website is able to find and process the information you offer.
2. Website accessibility is just good business practice.
You know who else benefits from sites that are accessible for all abilities? Pretty much everyone. Those descriptive alt tags? They are good for SEO.
Those colors that contrast effectively? They make it easier for everyone to read your content without squinting. If you aren’t sure what I am referring to in my last sentence, you probably haven’t turned 50 yet. Sites with medium grey text on a light grey background don’t pass accessibility for a good reason, they make content hard to read.
Plus, the US Census Bureau estimates that nearly one in five people in the United States is living with some sort of disability. If I told you that you could be driving away one out of every five people that visited your site, wouldn’t that make you want to fix the issue?
3. Lawyers care.
The laws mandating US companies to have an accessible website are murky, to say the least. My hope in this section of the blog was to give you a list of industries where accessible websites are required.
After spending two hours looking for a trusted source that would give me a comprehensive list I could share with you, I gave up. Some sources claim that all businesses must be accessible, while others make a case for it being more of an option for private companies, not a rule.
Here is the thing though, do you know where these disagreements are resolved? They are resolved in the courts when someone sues your company. Since this issue is so murky, there is all sorts of room for lawsuits, and lawsuits abound. In 2020, the latest year for which there are complete numbers, the total number of cases filed in US courts increased by 23% to 3,550 cases (or almost 10 lawsuits every single day).
So, who wants to have to pay a lawyer their hourly rate to debate whether or not they are required to have an accessible site?
4. Google cares, and soon, they might care in a way that impacts you.
We know that Google cares about website accessibility. How do we know this? Well, they have said so boldly. “Everyone should be able to access and enjoy the Web. We’re committed to making that a reality.”
Additionally, they have added accessibility checking to Google Lighthouse, their automated tool for accessing and providing feedback on the performance of a website. So, to reiterate, Google has built a function that accesses your website for accessibility compliance.
To be clear, we know that this is not a factor that they are presently using in their infamous algorithm to determine search page results. So, does having a website that is not accessible impact your SEO at present? No, not currently.
Do I think that can change in the near future? Yes. I do. Google has a long history of starting to care about something (responsive websites, SSL, etc.) and changing their search algorithm to pass along that caring to us.
How Can You Tell If Your Website Is Accessible?
At this point, you are probably asking yourself if your website is accessible to all. The short answer is, if you aren’t sure, the answer is most likely no.
Much like accessible building for physical locations, building an accessible website is an intentional process that requires thought and knowledge. So, if you didn’t think about it and discuss it during the building process, it is highly unlikely that it is accessibility-friendly. We are happy to run an accessibility check on your site to give you a definitive answer and point out areas of concern.
Ok, So Your Website Isn’t Accessibility-Friendly, What Next?
As noted above, your website probably isn’t accessible. How do you fix that? There are basically two approaches to fixing your website.
The first approach is the one that I (as someone that sells websites) tend to recommend: redo the site. The thing is, there are certain inflection points with all technology, including website development, where the change is sufficiently robust that it makes sense to rethink the entire site in the context of the new technology.
Because of how detailed and comprehensive accessibility requirements are, it is difficult and time-consuming to retrofit a site for accessibility. If your site is more than a couple of years old, in all likelihood the path of least resistance is rebuilding it with accessibility requirements in mind.
The good news is that if you are working with a web firm that is trained in accessibility requirements, the design and development of this should not incur too much additional cost. Speaking for Spring Insight, we are building all new websites to be accessible (according to our knowledge of current standards) by default without adding additional charge.
Though, for our clients for whom accessibility is a particular concern, we offer third party accessibility testing utilizing visually impaired and blind testers using real world assistive technology as a final step of the build process. That does incur additional charges.
Yes, it is difficult to remediate an existing website, but it is possible. If you have a newer site that you love, you might want to consider hiring a web professional to go through the site to identify and fix noncompliant areas. As this blog is being written, this is a process we are undergoing with our own website.. As noted above, it is time-consuming and complicated, but it is possible. While accessibility remediation is a service we are offering to our clients, it isn’t one we are offering for websites we didn’t build.
After you read this, you might do a search to find an easier solution for achieving accessibility compliance. You will find people out there who make that promise. A cottage industry in quick technological fixes such as website overlays or widgets has developed around accessibility.
Many of these offers are like the offers that come up on Facebook for a “fat melting” solution in that they make promises they can’t deliver upon. The only way to get an accessible website is to build one.
Well, did it work? Do you care about accessibility? At Spring Insight, we are committed to creating accessible websites. Let’s talk about how we can bring your site to its full potential with a free accessibility audit.