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A guide to web accessibility (A11y)

Have you ever attempted to navigate a website solely using your keyboard due to a trackpad malfunction or simply by choice, only to discover that certain functions cannot be performed without a mouse or trackpad?

Have you ever experienced a temporary physical limitation, rendering your arm unusable and making the navigation of certain applications or websites excessively complicated?

If your answer is affirmative, I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused, and I can empathize with the frustration you must have felt.

It is important to recognize that individuals with permanent disabilities may encounter difficulties when attempting to use certain applications and websites. In fact, a significant number of applications overlook their needs.

I must admit that I have been at fault for developing applications and websites without fully considering the accessibility requirements of all users and while that is changing I know there's still a lot to learn but I'll share what I know so far here in this article.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility, often referred to as a11y (a numeronym for "accessibility"), entails constructing a web platform that ensures seamless interaction for individuals with disabilities, granting them an equivalent user experience to that of others.

Throughout this article, I may use the terms "Web Accessibility" and "a11y" interchangeably.

Disabilities come in various forms, some of which have a greater impact on digital interactions than others. It is crucial to consider the needs of all individuals, irrespective of their disabilities, and incorporate accessibility best practices at every stage of your product's lifecycle, encompassing planning, design, and implementation.

Types of Disabilities

Disabilities can impact individuals in various ways, even if they share the same type of disability. Additionally, certain disabilities may not be immediately apparent. Here are some examples of disabilities that can affect individuals:

Visual impairments:

These include blindness, color blindness, blurred vision, low vision, and night blindness. People who are visually impaired commonly use screen readers, magnifying tools, or text-to-speech software as an assistive tool.

Hearing impairments:

This category encompasses individuals who are partially or completely deaf. Commonly used assistive tools for individuals with hearing impairments include hearing aids, video captions, and video transcripts.

Cognitive impairments:

This can manifest as developmental delays, dementia, ADHD, or autism. Individuals with cognitive impairments usually use text prediction or screen readers as an assistive tool.

Mobility impairments:

This category includes individuals with amputations, arthritis, or spinal cord injuries. Individuals with mobility impairments might use speech input, adaptive keyboards, and braille notetakers as assistive tools.

Speech impairments:

This category encompasses conditions such as stuttering or articulation errors. Some individuals with speech impairments might use speech-generating devices or electronic fluency devices as an assistive tool

You can read more about the different types of disability here

It's worth mentioning that accessibility (a11y) goes beyond benefiting people with disabilities. There are others who can also reap the rewards of an accessible platform. As an example, I personally experience migraines, and when I encounter a platform without a dark mode option, it becomes difficult for me to use.

Why is Web Accessibility Important?

Web accessibility is important as it guarantees equal access and usability of web platforms for people with disabilities. In today's world, the web serves as a vital platform for communication, information sharing, e-commerce, and accessing various services. It plays an essential role in our daily lives, and everyone must have the opportunity to fully engage in the digital world.

Here are some key reasons why web accessibility is important:

Website traffic impact:

An accessible website helps you reach a wider audience, when you make provision for everyone using your platform you encourage greater engagement from the visitors to your website, resulting in increased website traffic.

Inclusion and Equal Opportunity:

Web accessibility fosters inclusivity by eliminating obstacles and ensuring equitable access to information and services. It empowers individuals with disabilities to navigate and engage with websites efficiently, enabling their active involvement in education, employment, e-commerce, social interactions, and various facets of society, just like everyone else.

Better Website SEO:

Many SEO guidelines are in line with accessibility (a11y) guidelines, such as using alt text and employing proper headings. By making your website inclusive, SEO crawlers can easily comprehend your platform.

Legal impact:

In certain regions like the EU, Canada, Japan, and the UK, there is a legal requirement to ensure accessibility for your platform. You can learn more about these requirements here. Adhering to accessibility standards not only makes sense for your business in terms of compliance but also reduces the risk of potential lawsuits.

However, avoiding legal issues or personal benefits should not be the sole motivation for focusing on website accessibility. As developers and designers, it is our responsibility to ensure that all users have a positive experience, regardless of the means they choose to access our platform. Let's prioritize accessibility because we have to create an inclusive environment for everyone.

Accessibility Principles

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has established a set of accessibility requirements for digital platforms and tools, which are recognized internationally as the standard for web accessibility. These principles ensure that your platform offers:

Perceivable information:

This principle ensures that your users can perceive all essential information displayed on the screen. It involves providing text alternatives for non-text content. You can do this by:

  • Adding descriptive alt text to images
  • Using action words for icons, such as "Next" for a next arrow icon in a carousel
  • Including captions or transcripts for videos
  • Applying labels to form inputs

Operable user interface

This principle ensures that your users can effectively operate your platform, locate content, and have sufficient time to read and interact with the content. You can make your platform operable by:

  • Providing a keyboard alternative for mouse events
  • Allowing users enough time to fill out forms or read content
  • Providing controls for your videos
  • Ensuring that keyboard focus is visibly indicated

Understandable information

This means that your users should be able to understand the information on your platform including content read by text-to-speech. examples of these include:

  • Using clear and concise error messages
  • Specifying the language of text content
  • Using plain and straightforward language, providing definitions for unfamiliar terms

Robust content

This principle ensures that your platform is compatible with various browsers and assistive technologies like screen readers. Examples of following this principle include:

  • Testing your platform using only the keyboard or a screen reader to verify accessibility
  • Creating a responsive platform that adapts well to different screen sizes and devices

It's important to recognize that building an accessible platform goes beyond mere compliance with rules or the fear of legal repercussions. It's about guaranteeing that your platform is accessible to all individuals who have internet access and enhancing their overall web experience.

In my next article, I'll be sharing some a11y guidelines I follow when building a website or web app.

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Please be aware that this article intends to provide information. If you come across any inaccuracies or misinformation in this article, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment in the section below, and I will gladly review it. Thank you.


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