Digital Accessibility: Why It Matters and How to Build an Accessible Website
Imagine you have severe arthritis, and since you can’t use a mouse, you use the keyboard to accomplish all your tasks online. You want to undertake a bathroom remodeling project, so you go online to research local contractors.
You find a contractor you like, and you want to fill out the contact form on their website to get more information. The form is clearly visible on the screen, but you’re unable to use the keyboard to tab into the form. After attempting to find a way to access the form fields a few times, you exit the site frustrated, and you look for another contractor instead. You thought you found the service you needed, but the business didn’t make their website accessible to you, so you had to go elsewhere.
People with disabilities deal with frustrations like this all the time due to website accessibility issues.
Why Is Digital Accessibility Important?
Digital accessibility is easy to overlook if you’ve never lived with a disability or known a person who lives with one. Making your website accessible requires you to think about the web in a completely different way from what you’re used to. But even if it’s understandable to overlook accessibility issues based on inexperience, it’s not a mistake your business can afford to make.
Your business needs an accessible website for three primary reasons:
1. Digital Accessibility Is the Law
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, is a civil rights law that guarantees individuals with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in employment opportunities, the economy, and government programs. In recent decades, the ADA has helped make public spaces more accessible by setting architectural standards and requiring features like ramps at building entrances and rails in bathrooms.
Today, the internet is a fixture of our daily lives, and the landscape of disability law is adapting. In January 2019, The United States Court of Appeals ruled in a case against Domino’s Pizza that websites and mobile apps count as public spaces under the ADA. Even before the January 2019 ruling, accessibility lawsuits against websites were already on the rise.
In other words, the wind is blowing the way of accessibility. Making sure everyone can access your website and all other digital properties is required by law, and failing to comply could lead to a lawsuit or other consequences you’d rather avoid.
2. Accessible Design Is Good Design
Accessible content and design are beneficial to all users, not just those with disabilities. Good design takes the entire user experience into account and considers users of all ability levels. Accessible websites and other digital properties create multiple paths to information and to desired actions like sales and form-fills, which increases leads and conversions.
Also, thanks to smart speakers and mobile phones, even internet users without disabilities are increasingly making use of accessibility features like voice commands, screen readers, audio transcriptions, and closed captioning for videos. By making your website accessible, you position your business to adapt with changing technology and user expectations.
3. Digital Accessibility Makes Good Business Sense
About 61 million adults in the United States live with some sort of disability, which is 26% of the total population. And the American Institutes for Research found that individuals with disabilities who are of working age (16–64) have a combined total disposable income of just under $500 billion.
So, driving away customers with disabilities is a recipe for reduced revenue. An accessible website opens your business to more customers and clients, which is always a good thing.
3 Ways to Comply With the ADA and Make Your Website Accessible
Making your website accessible can feel like a huge project, and while guidelines exist, many of them are highly technical and hard to follow. To get you started, we’ll keep it simple and offer three quick steps you can take to improve your website’s overall accessibility.
1. Include Alternative Text for Images
Also known as alt tags or alt attributes, alternative text is a website feature that tells screen readers about the content of your images. When an image contains vital information, it’s important to convey that information via alternative text so a screen reader can read it aloud. Without alternative text, a user with a visual disability will miss out on important context and supplemental information.
All images on your website should have alternative text associated with them, but it’s especially important to apply alt text to images that contain essential information, like charts, graphs, maps, infographics, and call to action (CTA) buttons.
2. Create a Linear Flow of Information
Screen readers are programmed to read information in a structured order. When a website doesn’t have a clear and linear flow of information, it can make things very confusing for users who are consuming the information via screen reader.
For example, if a page for online bill payment gets set up poorly, a user’s screen reader might prompt them to submit payment before they’ve filled out all the required information. Even worse, the user might find they can’t go back and fill in the necessary fields. Often, these types of hang-ups result in users getting frustrated and abandoning the page altogether.
This item also falls under the “accessible design is good design” theme. If your website leaves users feeling like they don’t know where to look or navigate next, it’s probably hurting the experience of all your visitors, not just those with disabilities!
3. Include Closed Captions or Audio Transcripts for Videos
People with hearing issues or other auditory disabilities can’t consume video and podcast content without closed captioning or transcriptions. Video platforms like YouTube can try to add closed captions automatically, but the results are often inaccurate or riddled with errors. So, it’s important to provide full transcriptions and closed captioning for video and audio content wherever you can.
Even users who don’t have disabilities often appreciate transcriptions and closed captioning. Thanks to the popularity of mobile devices, many people watch videos with closed captioning on in settings where they can’t use their device’s speakers. Meanwhile, publishing transcriptions can help your podcasts and videos rank in Google search and attract users who would rather read than listen or watch.
LaFleur: Your Digital Accessibility Partner
Making a website truly accessible is a challenging project, and both the law and user expectations are constantly evolving, so you can’t simply audit your website once, make a few updates, and forget about accessibility. Making a commitment to accessibility requires a skilled, trained team and dedicated resources.
At LaFleur, we’ve taken the time to understand the Americans With Disabilities Act and what it means for businesses. Based on our expertise in this area, we’re able to offer forward-thinking digital strategies that make your website and digital content accessible to everyone.
American Institutes for Research. (2018, April) American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from https://www.air.org/system/files/downloads/report/Hidden-Market-Spending-Power-of-People-with-Disabilities-April-2018.pdf
Disability impacts all of us [infographic]. (2019, September 9). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.