When the internet ﬁrst came to popular attention, proponents of the nascent technology proudly declared it a universal resource that would be open to all, regardless of socio-economic or political status and geography.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way, with governments and corporations limiting entry to wide swathes of people.
For a billion people around the world that experience some form of disability, however, the barriers can be more fundamental than political or economic. For many of them, access to the internet and the vital services it can offer are often stymied by poor design.
Although there are many tools that can be added to websites and apps to make them accessible and navigable for users with a disability, many hosts either don’t include them or wrongly incorporate them.
For the neediest users, these are not just inconvenient oversights – they can be impediments to accessing important services, such as healthcare and banking, or communicating with the wider world.
Web accessibility can be the difference between living an enriched life or one of struggle and vulnerability. For that reason, incorporating accessibility features into web sites or mobile apps is more than just a value added business proposition; it’s a moral obligation.
Now here’s the good news: Ensuring the broadest website and app accessibility is a relatively straightforward matter.
A set of internationally recognised accessibility benchmarks have been established. These give developers and hosts clear guidelines against which they can measure whether or not their web asset can be used by the most diverse audience. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organisation that sets internationally recognised standards on the infrastructure of the internet, drew up the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in recognition that developers needed internationally recognised standards to work to.
In the years since they were drawn up, these recommendations have become the gold standard for digital accessibility and have been adopted as targets for a wide range of government and corporate online services.
Importantly, the best accessibility testing tools are also calibrated to WCAG. The most widely used measure is WCAG 2.0, which was created as guidance for wider web usage. An update last year, WCAG 2.1, adapted those same standards for mobile-optimised assets, the fastest developing part of the digital sphere.
WCAG 2.0’s prescriptive measures are built into the most essential accessibility tests. Among them are screen readers, which are vital for blind or limited-sighted users. These are pieces of software often built into devices and operating systems by default and either turn text into speech or enlarge print to make it easier to read. By running a site through one of these features, a developer can gauge how easy it would be for a blind user to interact with the contained functions.
Code validation is another key test covered by WCAG 2.0. This diagnostic goes to the core of a website or app – the computer coding that informs devices how to present their information – and tests it for ease of use.
Before embarking on a programme of testing, however, it’s important to remember that accessibility should be considered alongside web usability and inclusion. While each requirement places different demands on designers, their interaction is key to achieving a successful site from which all users can beneﬁt.
Assistive technologies that improve accessibility for disabled visitors can also enhance usability for the able-bodied. For example, the W3C points out that video captions for the hearing impaired can also be of use to sighted web users when content is viewed in noisy environments.
Additionally, accessibility features can aid in the inclusion of other non-disabled, though poorly served visitors, such as those with low literacy or limited language ﬂuency.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but inclusivity is ﬁnally being taken very seriously by governments and, encouragingly, by companies who see a compelling business case for broadening their services to all parts of the community.
So much of people’s daily lives take place digitally, that it’s key that all efforts are made to ensure this mood of all-encompassing engagement extends to the wired world. With so many tools available to achieve that, and with a robust set of standards as a guide, there’s no reason why the internet’s original aim of universality cannot be met.
Implementing accessible design is important to include all of your users, but it's not something that is done easily or overnight. Visit our Accessibility Testing page to learn how Planit Digital QA can help you achieve and maintain accessibility compliance for your digital products through testing, consultancy and support. We can also provide an accessibility statement highlighting your commitment to inclusion and conformance.
Also check out our Digital QA page to learn about our range of testing and consultancy options across functionality, compatibility, usability, performance, security and more.