Digital products are here to stay. And if they’re staying, they better be prepared to handle humans, in all their differences, all their limitations. And if interacting with screens already represents the prime method of communication for most people, start thinking about web accessibility and make sure your app is designed and developed for all kinds of people.
“All kinds of people” doesn’t just mean people with disabilities, whether they are visual, auditive, speech, physical, cognitive, or neurological. It also means age-related limitations (your users do get old), health conditions, or temporary impairments (the healthiest person may get a gym injury and be obliged to use the mouse with their non-dominant hand). Even tired eyes after a full day at the office or situational limitations like a slow network connection, which is still common in some countries, require accessible solutions.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
—Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Universality needs to be taken seriously. The main focus on providing web accessibility in digital products is that everyone, regardless of their chronic or temporary limitations, can perceive, navigate, and interact with your product.
A Truly Accessible Web
There is a motion to make a Web for all. It relies on the principle that the Web provides equal access and equal opportunities to people with disabilities, and to all of us when we need it—a basic human right. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goes further and mentions the Internet and other digital mediums are an important way to include all type of users so they can actively participate in today’s society.
This is about bringing down barriers. For instance, audio, print, and visual media can be much more accessible and effective with the help of modern technologies and take an important step forward in providing options for those who want to be involved. By going digital, in a way, we’re leveraging the field and providing the same opportunities while doing apparently simple things, like searching and applying for jobs.
For instance, nowadays, the education system is getting more accessible through the digital channel. Whether you are applying for a course, submitting your papers, or requesting some kind of form, online access enables all types of users. Some governments (the U.S. has ADA or sections 504/508 of the Rehabilitation Act) are also taking this seriously and getting more effective when it comes to the digital space, allowing users to go at their own pace to achieve the requirements to advance in our society.
To help different organizations achieve the standard regulations, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) promotes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). An ISO norm (ISO/IEC 40500:2012) was also established to guide everyone and spread best practices across the web world. In these scenarios, it’s important to join efforts across the world in making the interaction for differently-abled users a unique manifesto with best practices, which all designers and developers should get along with and learn how to implement properly.
Why Web Accessibility Is Good For Business
Digital touchpoints with your customers, and even with your employees or partners, are replacing traditional resources and are making companies more efficient, more agile in product or service delivery, and providing users with the ability to control their needs at their own pace.
As you’re investing in creating applications, you’re making digital spaces available to customers, creating new ways of receiving and conveying information, and pushing your business forward. However, if you make that space difficult to reach or interact with, you’re certainly limiting your impact.
The positive return on investment that comes attached to a strategy that makes a digital product accessible clearly surpasses the cost of implementation and benefits the business itself.
This may mean increased website traffic because you are reaching more diverse users (think of an e-commerce website or an enterprise application) and increased online sales or ease-of-use from lowering the learning curve users need to make to adopt a new technology (and this is valid even if you’re just making an app for your employees).
If websites or applications are developed to reduce cost with traditional communication channels, like customer services or traditional government bureaucracy, this accessible aspect plays an important part, because it reduces the need of personnel and paper interactions and increases online transactions.
Is that all? No, you also get more findability with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), improved usability, and company prestige by creating a positive image alongside corporate social responsibility.
When to Care About Accessibility
This is an easy one: from the start.
Making the Web accessible benefits different types of users. With user experience becoming a global buzzword and UX designers finally getting a seat at the table, if you think that an important topic in today's digital world is to put users first, you need to keep track of the all users’ needs and demands, capabilities and abilities, preferences and situations.
Knowing that, provide them with all types of guidance, like screen readers (or any other assistive technology), and help, like keyboard navigation. The goal is for digital interactions between people and services, products, information, and entertainment without limitations, without barriers, and without constraints. And this is something you should do in an early stage of a project, so can you can reduce the costs of fixing it later on.
You start with designing the application—the accessible way. If you want the short version, that means providing a certain amount of contrast between foreground and background colors; not relying on color to convey specific information; ensuring that interactive elements are self-explanatory and easily identified; that the navigation is clear, consistent, and labeled correctly for perfect understanding.
More than that, you’re ensuring that forms have clear labels for what the input will be and mandatory fields are self-explanatory about the intention; that you’re optimizing the experience for desktop, laptop, and mobile devices; that you’re providing keyboard controls for content navigation and a clear markup for screen readers.
This is what you do. And you take it from the design phase to development—no excuses—and have your developers know by heart which automated tools to use when testing accessibility. Include those tests as part of their delivery cycles.
By taking care of these details, you get a piece of technology that is available to and usable by all people, whatever their abilities, education, age, language, location, network connection, devices, and so on, are. And if you’re expanding your audience, you’re growing your impact. How much better can it get?
We’re preparing more posts to help you build accessible apps faster with OutSystems 11. Stay tuned.