Published on March 7, 2022
Think of the web as a train that goes to hundreds of millions of stations around the world. Those who can board this train will enjoy inherent advantages, better access to groundbreaking science, health advice, and career networking, than people who are unable to get on the train.
The digital divide has confounded the tech community for decades, and the coronavirus has exposed new inequalities. While the gap between rich and poor persists in many ways, the quest for equitable access for those with disabilities and deficits comes with moral and legal obligations that content providers must consider.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 4 Americans have a disability, and thus web developers must account for a wide array of barriers that prevent people from accessing the web. A keyboard, a mouse, a screen: the usual trappings of our computers and devices are so ubiquitous that many don’t often think about them.
But for those with auditory, visual, cognitive, or physical impairments, those familiar tech appendages can frustrate. The obvious unfairness of this situation is what led to the adoption of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), now on version 2.0. These guidelines use the concept of “POUR” to spell out how the web content should be formulated to erase differences in ability: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
That is, web content needs to be accessible and usable for all on all devices. This might include closed captioning, alternative text on images and appropriate color contrast.
Do the Right Thing
Not only is following WCAG 2.0 the fairway to make the world a better place, it’s also smart business. Last year, the disabled spent about $200 billion on online purchases, and so doing the right thing can boost your bottom line. This might sound like a transactional approach to ethics, but awareness of the market share is actually utilitarian. The sad fact is, most websites are not accessible, and so by being virtuous, you’re getting ahead of the competition.
Another very good reason for adhering to WCAG, besides being good and decent, is that Google rewards those who do. If your website isn’t accessible, then your page rank will suffer as a result. The good news is that by improving accessibility with headings in your content and alternative text on images, you will also get better SEO results. And as we all know, better SEO equates with better page rank, which can lead to improved traffic on your website.
And if you need more convincing: the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that a public-facing website is no different than a public-facing storefront, and companies must provide accessibility in both cases. All local, state, and federal agencies must meet these requirements, as must any entity that gets federal money. Failure to do so could result in fines.
Or a lawsuit. Thousands of non-compliance legal actions occur every year, and the last thing your brand needs is to be labeled as somehow adverse for those with disabilities.
To stay in compliance with the ADA, it’s good to watch out for some of the most common problems that arise with accessibility.
No Or Poor Alternative Text: Since blind people cannot see images on a website, they need a word-picture to stand in for the visual. If there isn’t one, the visually impaired will just skip past it. A filename usually doesn’t do the trick, either. You need to supply the text that paints a picture.
But you can’t be James Joyce. If you spin an elaborate yarn, most users will just get confused. Once you get past about 150 characters, screen readers will cut you off mid-sentence. Stick to a Hemingway approach: be direct.
Poor Color Contrast: The background color of a website has to contrast starkly with any foregrounded elements like CAT buttons, text content, or links. Yellow and green might look snazzy on a golf course but for the visually impaired using a website, those colors don’t contrast enough. The ratio should be 4.5 or 5 to 1. Think versions of black and white.
Unmoored Anchor Text: “Click Here” might make sense if you see the context of this CAT button on a website, but if you’re blind, you need more from anchor text, clickable words that usually take users to something: a video, a picture, a document. For the visually impaired, they need to understand what precisely the anchor text will do without context–the anchor text must be accessible on its own terms.
No Captions or Transcripts: Videos and sound files, if they are to be accessible for the disabled, must come with captions and transcripts. The captions should be synched perfectly with the audio, and captions are necessary because not all can read captions.
How to Check
If you have a WordPress website and you’re worried about compliance issues, there are plenty of plugins you can use like WP ADA Compliance Check Basic and Accessibility by UseWay. These tools will scan your website for any ADA issues and then issue an easy-to-understand report on how you can fix them.