Web accessibility is critical for people with disabilities to be able to visit and use websites and interact with apps. Various online barriers, such as improper heading level structure on a page or lack of captions for videos, create frustrating experiences for customers with disabilities. Websites that follow the technical guidelines of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA, on the other hand, are much more likely to be usable by people with disabilities.
As a business owner or organization leader, you are committed to treating all of your customers fairly and equally. But you may be unsure whether or not your website contains accessibility issues and creates barriers for people. You would probably prefer to take action before your website causes problems for people, not as a reactionary measure after you’ve received complaints.
In fact, did you know that only one out of every 10 people with disabilities will even take time to report an online accessibility problem? They are much more likely to leave your site than tell you they couldn’t use it, according to Click-Away Surveys Ltd. in the U.K.1
There are different types of automated accessibility testing tools that can search for specific barriers on your site. They run a series of yes/no tests on your site, and then issue a report. But they often turn up false positives or overlook certain barriers. And these automated tools don’t show you what it’s actually like for a person with a disability to try using or navigating your site. In fact, these tools may only catch 25 – 35% of the issues on a site.
Sometimes, it makes more of an impact to experience firsthand what it’s like to face accessibility issues.
You may have heard of awareness-raising events in which people who don’t have disabilities try out wheelchairs, or wear blindfolds, to experience barriers for themselves. These aren’t perfect exercises by any means. For one thing, anyone who temporarily tries interacting with the world from a disability perspective doesn’t have the expertise and resources of someone who’s managed with a disability for years.
Nevertheless, these events are an opportunity for the general public to experience firsthand a few things that they might not otherwise notice – such as all the countertop items that are out of reach, all the displays or screens that are out of view, or the heavy doors that have no automatic openers. Thus, there is some benefit to putting yourself in another person’s place.
Similarly, it’s possible to get a few insights by going online and interacting with various websites from a different perspective. Here are four exercises that can let you experience firsthand what it’s like to cope with web accessibility issues.
1. Try zooming a page.
Use the zoom feature on your browser to enlarge a page to 150% or 200%. If your browser has the option to zoom only the parts of the page that are text, experiment with this as well. Now you can see how the page will display for someone who has low vision and needs to enlarge what’s on their screen. Will they be able to see and read everything? Does some text now look like it has been cut off, or overlaps with other elements of the page, or is otherwise askew?
2. Try navigating without a mouse.
Put away your mouse, and use only your keyboard to navigate the web and perform different functions online. This is what can be like to go online without full use of your hands. Many people with physical disabilities have to rely on keyboard controls – or the equivalent, such as a sip-and-puff device that essentially does what a keyboard would do.
A website should be fully usable without a mouse. For instance, you should be able to use the tab key to navigate through the elements of the page (or shift + tab to go backwards), and the tabbing should be in proper order, not skip all over the page. There should also be an indicator of where you are tabbing to on the page (it’s called “keyboard focus,” for example a thin line around the part of the page you’ve just tabbed your way to).
3. Try turning down the volume.
Remove your earbuds or mute your computer’s volume control. Now try using multimedia on a few websites. When you watch a video, are there captions (subtitles that display important audio content) so you can still understand what’s being said? For bonus points, turn your volume control way, way up. When you land on a website, does an animation, video or audio clip start playing automatically, without a way for you to shut it off easily? Imagine if you couldn’t hear the sound and wasn’t even aware of it – unlike everyone else you’ve just managed to disrupt around you!
4. Try performing tasks slowly.
Try filling out an online form or updating your profile page – slowly. Every time you complete one task, count to fifty before moving to the next one. Many people with disabilities take more time than average to navigate the web. Perhaps they can’t move their hands or fingers quickly. Or they may have low vision and be unable to speed-read. Some people use assistive technology (AT), such as screen-reading tools, which can add to the time it takes to perform tasks. When you use a website slowly, are you suddenly “timed out,” with all your work lost? Or are you given an option to extend your time limit? If you’re logged in, does your session expire – and do you get bumped out – without any warning?
These are just a few of the web accessibility issues that can crop up and constrain people with disabilities. Perhaps these exercises can help you get a sense of what that’s like for someone who just wants to do their shopping or banking, apply for a job or make a dinner reservations online like everyone else. (You can learn more from the Web Accessibility Initiative’s online resource, “How People with Disabilities Use the Web.”)2
An accessibility partner can help you ensure that these barriers are eliminated from your website and apps, and that you’re creating a welcoming experience for people with disabilities, instead of a frustrating one. They would conduct a combination of manual and functional testing on your digital properties, and work with your team to remove barriers faced by people with disabilities.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.