How to Make the Web More Inclusive, Through Accessibility

June 11, 2020
Michael Ebako-Hodgson
Michael Ebako-Hodgson

Web Accessibility was overlooked for decades. It was considered too complicated, too time-consuming, or too expensive. Luckily the world continues to progress, and governments realized that this kind of web design closed off parts of the internet to large groups of people. Now Accessibility has been written into law in many states and countries and can no longer be ignored, but all too often, the focus is simply on compliance and checking boxes on a list.  

What is Web Accessibility? 

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3), the creators of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines:  

"Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them." Source  

At first glance, this definition seems to simplify Accessibility to one thing: the ability for people with disabilities to use the Web. But let's keep reading. The page continues to say: 

"More specifically, people can: (1) Perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web (2) Contribute to the Web."

Many people who can't perceive, understand, navigate, interact and contribute to the Web, do not have disabilities. So, I'd like to propose an alternate definition.   

Web Accessibility means that as many people as possible can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with and contribute to the Web.   

Why this Relates to Inclusion  

Accessibility laws make it very clear that not everyone experiences the Web the same way. In America, 20% of the population lives with at least one disability. That is 48.9 million people that may have to use tools like screen readers, ATs, or head pointers when using the Web. This number only scratches the surface of how many people are closed off from the Web. There are people with poor access to hardware, software, and Internet connectivity; people who lack computer skills; people who come from different economic situations; and these are just a few examples. All these circumstances can affect their ability to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and they cannot be addressed by only making sure your site is readable by a screen reader. However, they can be accounted for if you change your understanding of what Accessibility means. 

Benefits of Inclusivity   

Take the number of people with disabilities, 48.9 million, that we referenced above. Now add another 38.1 million people for the number of people in America living below the poverty line. Then add another 65.4 million people who speak a different language other than English at home as their first language. I could continue, but I will stop there. That is 152.4 million people out of the United States population of 328.2 million that will have problems interacting with your site if you do not make it inclusive. That is 46%! Yes, before you comment, I know that the groups I identified may have people that overlap or have people that have no problems interacting with the Web, so that number should probably be lower. However, let's not forget how few groups I mentioned in the first place. These are all people that your website could be reaching, and that won't just lead to an increase in users, it will lead to more revenue.  

How to Promote Inclusivity and Diversity Through Web Design

First, I'd like to emphasize that it is an ongoing process that starts when you first build your website and does not end after you finish it. Because no matter when it is time to publish or update, it is crucial to be considerate. Considerate of yourself and considerate of how your decisions will affect others in their various situations. Let us look at some differences between people's circumstances and how your web design can account for it.   

  • Accessibility for people with disabilities  
    Ensure that all tools used to interact with the Web work with your site, it has good color contrast, supports screen readers, etc...   
  • Access to and quality of hardware, software, and Internet connectivity  
    Not everyone has a Mac. Some people access the internet through their library computer from 1990 that only runs Internet Explorer. Does your site work on IE, with slow internet?  
  • Computer literacy and skills  
    Don't assume a user knows how to navigate a web page. Make it clear how to navigate.   
  • Economic Situation  
    Imagine someone is on a tight budget and only has 15 minutes at an internet café. Would they be able to navigate your site and do everything they need to accomplish within that time frame? 
  • Education 
    Not everyone has the same reading level. Keep your site concise, clear, and reduce cognitive overload.   
  • Language  
    Does your page translate well with an automatic translator? Could someone with little knowledge of English, German, etc... find your site's core functions?  
  • Age, including older and younger people  
    Many people have inexperience navigating the Web, be it old or young. Depending on that age, they may have different cognitive abilities to make sense of a site. So as before, keep it simple. 

How Crowdtesting Can Help

test IO can provide you access to testers worldwide, all on real devices, in real-world conditions. So, if you want to test your site on Internet Explorer running on Windows XP, you can do it, at scale, on-demand. Or maybe you want to see how people in Ukraine, interact with your site and whether or not they can reach a specific feature. Reach out to your CSM, and we'll get you a group of people in Ukraine to test your site. Or maybe you want to know if a screen reader will work on your site regardless of the device and browser combination. Run a coverage test and have up to 50 different people on all the device and browser combinations you need let you know if various screen readers work on your site. Whatever the scenario, we'll make it happen in the real world. 

Conclusion 

Accessibility as we currently understand it is just a step in the right direction. Take it one step further by considering how inclusive it is for people who don't have disabilities, but still may struggle when interacting with your website. If the tech industry starts to do this as a whole, we can open up the Web for people of all backgrounds to create and contribute. And as a Forbes study shows, an increase in diversity helps all our bottom lines. Plus, you'll be expanding your user base and increasing your site's reach, which will help your bottom line. So why not. 

If you need help making this a reality, reach out here, and we'll get you on the path to creating more inclusive software, faster. 

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