The beauty in web design is that it can be accessible to everyone. But what factors determine ‘Web Accessibility’ and what are the approaches we should implement to ensure a flawless user experience?
The term accessibility in web design is often misinterpreted as something related to users with disabilities. While it is true that W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 we're provided with a set of recommendations to address people experiencing difficulties while using a particular site, there is much more to it than that.
Accessibility can also address cases where a user is accessing a site from multiple locations on different devices or sometimes with limited internet access. Responsive user interface (UI) may address the former and solutions like Progressive Web Apps the latter. The goal is to provide a seamless user experience with access for everyone, indiscriminately.
Let's have a closer look at the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Despite the emphasis on access for physically challenged users, WCAG was organised around four principles that aim to make content user-friendly in general.
- Principle 1: Perceivable - Content and user interface should be presentable to users in such way that they can perceive it. Include a simplified interface without losing information.
- Principle 2: Operable – A user should be able to operate the UI (this also applies to users with motor impairment). Keyboard accessibility, content should be easy to find and navigate.
- Principle 3: Understandable – Information should be provided the way a user understands it, UI should be predictable and easy to navigate, using input assistance if required.
- Principle 4: Robust - various user agents (browsers) should be able to interpret the content. Make best use of content compatibility, including assistive technologies.
Following these outline principles should result in a better user experience. Note that the European Union (the European Parliament directive 2016/2102) and several other countries promote using this standard in the public sector.
It is important to bear in mind that the average image of an everyday user may not reflect the reality. User ranges vary – e.g. senior citizens, mobile device users and those who are accessing the web from their TVs to get the latest news. Yes there are also people with different levels of physical challenges or with changing abilities due to various circumstances – the point is one must understand that encompassing user diversity will help to provide better content and increase audience.
Are there other advantages besides ethical criteria and better user experience? Several studies show that an accessible site results in returning customers and better readability for search engines. Additionally, proper benchmarking and user research can set site owners on track to increase user engagement and sales. In doing so, one should also consider senior citizens - they are an essential part of the economy. Better quality of life is not the only area where this segment of society is willing to spend its money and it is sometimes not so easy to get access the products and services that meet their needs. Stepping forwards to include this market segment can be a win-win solution.
From a technical point of view, benefits may include reduced costs of maintenance, better talent management as well as reaching new markets.
Ensuring product innovation, by including web accessibility as part of the strategy, is a no-brainer. Moreover, the constantly expanding web infers that need for accessibility will increase in complexity due to its ever diversifying user-base.
With that in mind, the WCAG should be considered as an essential strategic element towards building a better web, rather than a readymade solution.