Accessibility: Is Your Website Reaching ALL of Your Audience? In a recent blog post, I wrote about the concept of usability, and why having a “usable” website is a crucial component of your business success. As promised, I’d now like to tell you about the related yet distinct issue of accessibility.
When a website is said to be “accessible,” it means that the site has been set up, both in its visual design and coding, to work as intended for as many people as possible. This can cover anything from variations in web browsers to physical or perceptional challenges of the user.
There are two key reasons why you should be concerned about accessibility. One is the simple fact that when fewer people are able to engage with your website, fewer people are able to bring you revenue in the form of sales of products and services, or site traffic (including ad and affiliate link clicks).
The other reason you should desire an “accessible” website is the same reason many brick-and-mortar businesses design amble aisles and clear signage. While there is no government requirement that websites meet any particular accessibility criteria, making your site viewable to people with all kinds of computer equipment and physical disabilities is a smart business move that also shows you care about all of your potential readers and customers.
Many, many business websites have fallen victim to a common mistake: They look and function great when viewed in one web browser, but in another the graphics and text are all askew and an errant click sends the visitor into a cyber black hole. Most people aren’t going to keep trying; they’re going to leave and try a different site that does work with what they have. And there goes your revenue.
It doesn’t matter that Firefox (or Chrome or Safari or another favorite browser) is “better.” What matters is that your customers are surfing the Internet with all kinds of browsers, from the latest-and-greatest to the most clunky and outdated. Not only that, they’re on Macs, Windows PCs, Linux machines, netbooks and mobile phones. Your site needs to work in all of them or you’ll be missing out on potential visitors. You can’t easily covert these people to customers if they have an unpleasant browsing experience, and you might never have the shot at all if they get frustrated and give up on your site.
Make sure that your web designer or web developer is attentive to the needs of multiple browser users, as well as related accessibility issues. For example:
1. Web designers should make text sizes large enough to be read by the vast majority of people, and allow for text resizing for people who are visually impaired. Many users know how to “zoom in” and see site content, graphics and photos more closely. Make sure your content looks nice at at least two or three times its size.
2. HTML code can easily be structured to include text equivalents for each image, which makes it possible for low-vision and blind web users to experience the pictures, videos or graphics with the help of text-to-speech (or Braille) software and assistive technology and devices.
3. Something as simple as underlining links, rather than just making them a different color, ensures that people who are color blind can see that those words are clickable. Also, light text on a light background is seldom a good idea for anyone, but it’s even more of barrier to people with vision problems.
4. Other ways to make a site more accessible include: Making clickable areas large, so people with limited mobility or muscle control problems can use them more easily; adding captions to videos; limiting flashing or strobe-like effects that could harm users with seizure disorders; and including spoken-word information for people who are hearing impaired.
5. Try to design sites on which it is possible to do everything with a keyboard, as some people are unable to use a mouse.
6. Make your website design and layout as usable and predictable as possible.
There is also a growing awareness among website designers and owners that the Adobe multimedia platform Flash, while great for making dynamic pages with slideshows and other cool stuff, can also create a barrier between the information and the user – as well as the search engines. Some people find them annoying, and Flash can also be a problem for people with disabilities. Most mobile devices such as the Blackberry, iPhone, iPad and Android phones don’t support the Flash player, and visitors to your site will just see a big X or a notice that the content is not available. Improvements to and replacements for Flash are in the works, but in the meantime, the experience could be disappointing for them and a loss for you.
Of course, you are never going to be able to please and/or accommodate everyone. And, honestly, it’s probably not worth it to make sure your site is compatible with some mothballed version of Netscape from the 1990s. Just do your best, take advice from a competent web developer, and the traffic and good will should follow.
If you would like to learn more about how to make web sites accessible to as many people as possible, take a look at the resources and guidelines offered by the World Wide Web Consortium’s. Web Accessibility Initiative.
It’s both common courtesy and good business to make sure your website is as easy as possible to view and navigate. People don’t want to work too hard to find the information they need. A site that takes both accessibility and usability into account is just good business. Do you believe that your site is accessible? How would you like to improve it? Please share your concerns or ideas by posting in the Comments.
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