The Importance of Website Accessibility

Portrait of Shane in front of green background

Shane Eskritt

· 6 min read
Two men accessing the web with various disabilities displayed on devices behind them

What is Accessibility?

Your first thought on web accessibility is probably like mine: accommodating visually impaired users. But having an accessible site goes beyond that. It’s about providing a high-quality experience to a diverse range of hearing, sight, movement, and cognitive abilities.

We’ve all been annoyed by confusing CAPTCHAs (is that a bird or plane?), distracting images, or that one site who thought yellow text on a white background was acceptable. Heck, closing popups on certain webpages could be its own Olympic sport. Paris 2024? Now imagine that modern-day web gauntlet but with poor motor coordination, colour blindness, or low mental energy. It would be exhausting!

Thankfully, it’s not challenging to design and code your website to be accessible to all. The important part is keeping accessibility in mind throughout the design stages. This makes it easy to implement. An accessible design results in a site that is easier for all users to navigate. But if accessibility is an afterthought, it can be a nightmare to implement.

The Importance of Accessibility

Recently, many high-profile lawsuits have been filed over the accessibility of companies’ websites. Dominos, Netflix, and Target were among those facing lawsuits.1 Businesses with inaccessible sites have been increasingly required to redesign their websites as well as incur fines and attorneys’ fees. In 2019, there were 2,285 class action suits filed in the US on the grounds of inaccessible websites.2 This is a 181% increase in lawsuits compared to the previous year.

American businesses aren’t the only ones affected. Accommodating people with disabilities is a legal requirement in many locations such as the EU, Canada, UK, Israel, and Japan. Avoiding fines isn’t the only reason to keep accessibility in mind. Having a well-made, accessible website comes with its own benefits:

Search Ranking:

A properly coded site is easier for search engines to understand your content. If Google understands your content, they can better direct relevant searches to your business.

Improved Sales:

If people can’t use your site, you can’t make money from it. In the UK, a survey found that over 4 million online shoppers in 2019 abandoned a retail website because of accessibility barriers they encountered.3

Better User Experience:

An accessible site is appreciated by all users. Text is easy to read, menus are logical, and there are no crazy jiggling popups with tiny close buttons. Life is good.

Common Accessibility Issues

So what are the biggest accessibility issues users face today? Thankfully, I didn’t have to visit hundreds of poorly made websites to find out. Click-Away Surveys gathered a list of the most-common website issues faced by all users with access needs:3

  • 66% - Crowded pages with too much content
  • 63% - reCAPTCHA tests
  • 59% - Poor link information and navigation
  • 56% - Filling in forms
  • 55% - Poor legibility (colour contrast and text layout)
  • 53% - Distracting moving images and graphics

For users who make their site with a drag-and-drop builder, many of these seem out of your control. And they are. Site builders like WordPress make designing a site too easy. They abstract away a lot of important considerations. This leaves you at the mercy of plugins and page builders to handle things correctly. Which, surprise surprise, aren’t great at that. In April 2021, the average WordPress homepage had 56.6 accessibility errors.4 Fifty-six potential reasons for visitors to ditch your site!

The non-profit accessibility organization WebAIM did a similar study. They assessed the top 1,000,000 homepages for common accessibility issues that failed to meet WCAG 2 standards. Remember, these aren’t random blog sites with 2 monthly visitors. These are all popular sites you visit daily for news, weather, and cute cat videos. (ex. Facebook, The Weather Channel, Amazon) Here are the most common issues:4

  • 86.4% - Low contrast text
  • 60.6% - Missing alternative text for images
  • 54.4% - Missing form input labels
  • 51.3% - Empty links
  • 28.9% - Missing document language
  • 26.9% - Empty buttons

Essentially, most sites are missing the basics: legible text, descriptions for images, forms with labels for each box, and proper links. That’s a pretty low bar. Especially for the largest websites on the net.

How to Test Your Site

Great, now you understand the importance of accessibility. But how do you know if your site is accessible?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a GIANT document listing the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. But it’s quite dense. So if you don’t have a weekend to spare reading that, here are some free and easy tools:

WAVE® Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

WAVE Accessibility Tool. Our friends at WebAIM are back again! You can throw any website into their tool to check accessibility. It shows you a preview of the site you entered and informational icons beside each element. The icons visually inform you what is done well and what can be improved.

TAW Web Accessibility Test

TAW Accessibility Tool. This tool isn’t nearly as sexy as WAVE, but they make up for it with thoroughness. They generate a detailed report on potential issues and also grade issues on the likeliness to affect user experience.

Conclusion

Websites should be designed with all potential visitors in mind. This will lead to better user experiences, higher search rankings, more sales, and less legal headaches.

If you’re unsure how to approach accessibility on your own site, I recommend you try the tools I mentioned. Sites often have the same common issues, and big improvements can be made with a few small changes.

If it’s all feeling a bit over your head, that’s okay! I created my CA$180 a month website package to help businesses like yours. You’ll receive a hand-coded, accessible website designed specifically for your business. But more than that, you’ll have a partner to handle the web side of your business, so you can focus on what you do best—running your business. Let’s set up a chat

Citations

  1. “ADA questions remain over web accessibility cases and the lack of DOJ regulations” https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/ada-web-accessibility-doj-regulations 

  2. UsableNet Report Raises Awareness of Website Accessibility” https://blog.usablenet.com/usablenet-report-raises-awareness-of-website-accessibility “ 

  3. “Click-Away Pound Survey” https://www.clickawaypound.com/  2

  4. “The WebAIM Million” https://webaim.org/projects/million/  2

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