This year we’ve noticed a sharp increase in the demand for inclusive websites, as the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed individuals and businesses online more and more for everyday tasks and communication. As I’ve been saying for a while now, when information is vital, it’s vital that information is accessible to all. That’s why we made a pledge to support businesses with a free inclusive landing page to keep their staff and customers up to date with accessible messages and updates about COVID-19.
Our team spends a lot of time explaining accessibility principles to existing clients and prospective buyers. This normally includes discussing best practices, accessibility and inclusion goals, and how the Recite Me assistive toolbar can help to achieve them.
The Business Benefits of Setting Inclusion Goals
Hopefully, you already want to make your web content available to as many people as possible just because it’s the right thing to do. But if you still need convincing, there are a number of direct benefits to your business:
At $3.02 trillion annually, the spending power of the disabled market is hard to ignore.
Some accessibility features already form part of search engine algorithms, and indicators suggest that accessibility will become an even more significant part of SEO calculations in the near future. So, its true that Accessibility and SEO can benefit each other.
Being inclusive boosts your brand value, as some customers simply will not buy from companies who are seen to exclude minority groups.
Reduced risk and fewer chances of facing financial penalties, either in the form of fines for non-compliance or individual court cases based on accessibility discrimination.
Who Needs Web Accessibility Adjustments?
No two people’s needs are the same, so I find it always helps to go back to basics and get a firm understanding of who needs help and why before we get into the complexities of best practices, standards, and the role of assistive technology.
In short, lots of people require accessibility adjustments. Whether it’s a temporary need because of an accident or injury, a long-term requirement due to a lifelong condition, or simply a byproduct of the natural ageing process, many people struggle to access information on the internet in the same way the rest of us do. There are four main categories of barrier that affect web accessibility, and invariably all of those include ‘hidden disabilities’ that are often not considered when looking at website design, layout, and compliance with best practices for inclusion:
Physical problems – examples include motor disabilities, repetitive stress injuries, and epilepsy.
Visual impairments – such as partial blindness, colour blindness, and deafblindness.
Cognitive, learning, and neurological issues – like dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperlexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Language issues – this includes poor literacy in general as well as those who do not read English as a first language.
Individual Benefits of Digital Inclusion
The sky is the limit here. Most of us take it for granted that we have instant access to information and services online, and these days we use the internet for almost everything. From job searches, banking, and paying bills to shopping, booking holidays, and staying in touch with friends and family, we rely on the internet to keep us connected. Inclusive websites remove barriers so those with disabilities, learning disorders and language barriers can enjoy the same level of access and benefit from the same opportunities as everyone else.
Web Design: Accessibility Versus Inclusion
We’ve noticed that there are still some sizeable gaps in understanding over what it means to have an accessible website, whether that’s the same thing as being inclusive. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, your website isn’t necessarily inclusive just because you’ve made it accessible. You can tick all of the right boxes for a more accessible website build, but what makes a website truly inclusive is personal ease of use. Every internet user is unique. We’re all individuals with our own needs and preferences, and it’s virtually impossible to account for the full array of diverse needs without additional technology.
Working Example: Take an internet user who is dyslexic, and has specific preferences for a particular font, its colour, size, and the contrast ratio between the text and background. But they are also predisposed to epilepsy and have a sensitivity to light and movement, meaning they also need to strip away image carousels or graphics from a webpage before they can read it comfortably.
Even by applying the best web design practices and being in compliance with the relevant laws and guidelines, all of these needs are impossible to accommodate simultaneously without additional software. That’s where Recite Me comes in. Our technology and supporting services bridge the gap between accessibility and usability. We create more inclusive online experiences by giving people as many choices as possible in how they view and consume the information on a webpage. Put simply, accessibility + usability = inclusion.
Web Accessibility Guidelines & Statutes
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide minimum standards that all businesses should adhere to. WCAG guidelines define how content should be made more accessible to those with disabilities, and at Recite Me, we stand by the 4 main cornerstone principles by making online content:
Perceivable – Accommodating for various sensory differences. For example, our toolbar provides text-to-speech in 35 languages and also offers the option to convert website text or documents like PDFs into audio files.
Operable – User interface and navigation components on a website must be usable by all. Recite Me assistive technology provides users with a screen reader for easier navigation. The screen reader also supports content reading time as users can control text-to-speech reading speeds.
Understandable – Both website information and operation of the user interface itself must be consistent and understandable. Recite Me styling features allow people to change the way the content is displayed by customising the website’s colour scheme as well as font style, size, colour and spacing.
Robust – Websites must be standards compliant and able to function using all applicable technologies, including assistive software. Our assistive toolbar is delivered as SaaS (Software as a Service). Once installed onto your website, you will receive regular updates and always have the latest version.
Bear in mind that while the WCAG covers what you should do to make your website build accessible, every region has rules in place listing what must be done to meet minimum legal web accessibility requirements. What type of organisation you are part of will also be an important factor as the rules vary depending on whether you are a private company, a not-for-profit organization, a public sector body, or a government department, etc.
The most important thing to bear in mind, however, is that legal compliance shouldn’t simply be about covering your bases. The whole reason these laws exist is to make information clearer and easier to read for those with varied accessibility needs. So you should always keep that insight as the end goal.
“Accessibility isn’t a checklist, and standards aren’t a target. I’ve worked with some clients that were more interested in compliance with standards than with making their site accessible. It was as if, for them, accessibility was just a somewhat interesting by-product of their work on complying with accessibility guidelines and standards.”
Nicola Steenhout, a prominent speaker and consultant on inclusion, accessibility, and disability.
Using Assistive Technology to Achieve Inclusion
To go beyond accessibility and be inclusive, you need to support everyone who needs to make adaptions, and that’s where assistive technology really makes the difference. As I hinted earlier, we like to think of the Recite Me toolbar is the bridge between accessibility and inclusion. By making your website more usable on a case by case basis, no matter what adjustments are required, we provide the ultimate ease of access to as many site visitors as possible and create more inclusive online experiences.
“The single most important thing to understand is that people use websites in very different ways. This doesn’t just mean disabled people using special equipment, but everyone – regardless of whether you might think of them as having a special need.”
Mel Pedley, Black Widow Web Design