The importance of website accessibility for a more inclusive business

By Guest Author | web design | February 12, 2021

As more of daily life and commerce heads online, many businesses are looking for creative ways to stand out from the crowd when it comes to their website and digital presence.

By STUART TAYLOR, Technical Director at Rouge Media

It’s true to say that most website design projects focus mainly on aesthetics. However, accessibility and user experience are just as important.

To succeed in inclusive design, you must consider the needs of the widest variety of people, including those with disabilities. Around 11 million people in the UK are affected by a disability and whether permanent, temporary or situational, many face difficulties when going online.

By improving your website’s accessibility, you’re ensuring there are no barriers preventing access or the user journey on your website. This ultimately means keeping potential customers on the page for longer, leading to more inquiries and goal completions.

Here’s why website accessibility matters in the business world and how it can benefit you…

Accessibility Vs Usability – What’s the difference?

While it is a common misunderstanding among designers, as the two terms share some of the same core principles and even overlap, they do have some key differences, too.

Usability focuses on making things easy to use for all. The emphasis is on the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction that makes it possible for your customer to complete a specific goal. Whereas, accessibility focuses on making sure anyone can use them – in the case of websites this includes things such as being able to view a website with a text to speech reader for the visually impaired or captions for those hard of hearing.

It’s not just people with disabilities that will benefit from making your website accessible – it creates a space that everyone can use and it makes it easier for them to complete a goal. After all, it can’t be usable if it’s not accessible.

Accessibility and usability should go hand in hand, so don’t get too caught up in complicated link names or hidden option pages, as while these are great for making your site accessible, they aren’t always ‘user-friendly’.

Understanding the value of website inclusivity

These days more people go online to access important resources than ever before – for healthcare, education, employment, government services, online purchasing and so much more.

For many, the internet is the easiest way to access products or services, so we must make it accessible for them to do so. This doesn’t just apply to people with primary disabilities such as limited vision or hearing, but for those in situations that make it challenging to

perform everyday tasks that most of us don’t think twice about.

Improving accessibility online ensures more people are able to actively engage with businesses, products and services. It’ll also make your website work harder for you.

How to get started

To make your website fully accessible to everyone, there are several elements you must implement in your website’s design.

Firstly, look at the title tag. While browsers don’t usually show the text in the (HTML) title tag in the actual text on the page, these are the words used by Google to understand what the page is about, and this is very helpful for people using screen readers. Make sure you use helpful descriptions to inform readers of the subject matter the page covers.

Consider headings, images and tables too. By adding structured HTML elements to headings, alt tags for images and descriptive tags for tables, users with visual impairments will better understand the context too.

Meanwhile, the use of subtitles and closed captions for videos and podcasts or audio media within your site will not only help those with hearing difficulties, but they are helpful for any user who might have to keep the sound down. This is also great for SEO purposes, helping your business rank higher in the search results.

Don’t forget other small things too, like JavaScript, Links and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). ARIA developed with Javascript makes web content more accessible to people with disabilities by enabling accessible navigation landmarks to form hints or error messages.

Finally, to make sure all the elements you’ve added create an inclusive site, use an automatic testing tool.

Here’s two we like to use:

Accessibility Insights for Web – This does full site checks and provides you with a human assessment to follow to manually test/review things that cannot be automated. – This is an update to the old Google page speed insights. It uses Lighthouse, which is in the Audit tab in Chrome developer tools.

Reaping the benefits for your business

By embracing accessibility and the rules associated with it, you are steering your business towards the best practices of web design, usability and SEO. The benefits could mean an edge on your competition, as well as appealing to a whole new group of customers previously overlooked.

If your business is in the public sector, or works with public sector partners, you’ll keep on the right side of the law too which demands a website is inclusive to all. By taking the appropriate steps to meet the guidelines, you’re minimising the potential costs and eliminating the chance of a bad reputation (and lawsuits) that could come from inadvertently excluding potential customers.

Improving accessibility will give you the keys to success by enhancing your business and boosting your brand reputation. It’s a win-win scenario.