Web Accessibility: Is Your Content Ready for Everyone?

Page 1 of 3

      Bookmark and Share

BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Article ImageAmy Ruell has been blind since birth, but software programs called screen readers help her read web content-that is, if websites are created in a way that makes their information accessible and usable for her, which is not always the case. Sometimes, sites that constantly refresh aren't coded right, and every page refresh causes her screen reader to start going through the page all over again. Some sites don't have properly tagged headings or descriptive links to help her find what she needs quickly; others are too cluttered with ads.

These kinds of problems make the web inefficient for reading news and content, says Ruell, a Boston area-based clinical social worker who is also a technical support specialist for an assistive technology company. She states she'd probably read more content if the access and usability were greater. Sometimes, Ruell reaches out to website developers to ask if they can make some changes for accessibility. "By far, the most common reaction I get is surprise, because they don't have a clue that the person on the other end of that computer screen or smartphone is a blind person," she says. "They don't know that these things even exist that would allow a person without vision to access the information on the web."

All these years after the internet's emergence as a mammoth treasury of information-and despite the establishment of industry guidelines on accessibility-many websites still don't offer equal access to visitors with disabilities. "It's like walking up to a store and then being told you're not allowed to enter," says accessibility advocate Char James-Tanny. "That's what we're doing with websites that aren't accessible." However, it's never too late to create a more welcoming website; experts say changes that help visitors with disabilities ultimately lead to desktop and mobile sites that offer better experiences for all users.

WIDESPREAD CONTENT BARRIERS

It's tough to calculate how many content sites are accessible. Even some that make an attempt can easily run into problems. "You might have something accessible today, but somebody might add in an image or a table and not add the appropriate accessibility coding to it, and then it's not accessible anymore," says Kathy Wahlbin, CEO of the consultancy Interactive Accessibility.

Karl Groves, an accessibility consultant and web developer, finds there are an average of 72 automatically discoverable issues per page on the web-and those are just the problems that automatic testing can catch. An example is poor color contrast between text and background, which can make words hard to read. "So if we think about that in terms of, ‘Holy cow, 72 issues that are discoverable, and we can't even discover everything,' it paints a picture of a pretty abysmal level of accessibility on the web," he says.

Groves cites ignorance as the top reason there are so many inaccessible sites. Many web developers don't think about accessibility, he says, and he didn't until 2003 when he began working on websites that needed to be accessible. At the same time, many who do think about accessibility mistakenly view it as a solution just for blind or low-vision users.

Actually, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which created the well-regarded Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, says its recommendations are designed to make content more accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, including those with deaf­ness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photo­sensitivity, and combinations of those disabilities. The group adds that the guidelines will help "older individuals with changing abilities due to aging" and "users in general."

Page 1 of 3