In today’s digital-first world, your website is your business’s “front door.” It’s likely to be the first (and sometimes only) point of contact your prospective clients have with your professional services firm. So it’s no wonder marketing executives like you are so preoccupied with your website’s design, user experience and messaging!
But focusing all your energy on those details—as important as they are—may be putting the cart before the horse. Take a step back and consider this: In order to absorb your digital marketing, your audience must be able to access it in the first place.
On the face of it, that may seem like a silly concern. After all, the barrier to entry to the internet is lower than ever. But what about people with physical and situational disabilities?
From visual impairments and color blindness to gross motor limitations and low internet speeds, these and other disabilities can unfairly limit people’s access to digital content. The responsibility is yours to ensure that your digital content is accessible to everyone. How? The answer lies in web accessibility.
Web accessibility is a growing concern for any business with a digital presence—including your legal or financial services firm. In fact, depending on the nature of your business, you may be legally required to ensure your digital properties meet a minimum accessibility threshold. While the legal particulars may vary, you can be sure of one thing. You need to consider web accessibility as part of your website design process.
What is Web Accessibility, and How is it Measured?
Web accessibility is the practice of designing inclusive digital experiences—experiences that allow people with a range of physical and situational disabilities to access and absorb content online. Think of it this way: Just as wheelchair accessibility impacts a building’s architectural design, web accessibility impacts your website’s visual design and technical construction.
In general, web accessibility is concerned with making the web more available to everyone. In particular, inclusive design practices are useful in addressing the following conditions:
- Permanent disabilities, such as low vision, blindness, color blindness, deafness, gross motor impairments and cognitive disabilities.
- Temporary disabilities, such as injuries and illnesses that limit normal functioning.
- Situational disabilities, such as low internet speed, lack of equipment (i.e., a mouse) or low lighting.
So how exactly is web accessibility defined and measured? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a set of agreed-upon Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines, as expressed in WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1, delineate the exact accessibility measures you must take to achieve various accessibility accreditation levels. These range from Level A to Level AAA.
In each of the three accreditation levels, WCAG breaks its recommendations into four categories. These categories reflect four key building blocks that add up to accessible content. In other words, to be truly accessible, your digital content must be:
- Perceivable. Can users with a range of disabilities meaningfully take in your content? For example, a person with low vision may only be able to make sense of your digital content with the right amount of color contrast. And a blind person will only be able to perceive it with the aid of a screen reader (assuming your website is structured in a way that supports this technology).
- Operable. Can all of your users successfully navigate and operate your website and other digital properties? What about a user who wants to navigate your website using only a keyboard?
- Understandable. Can your site visitors readily comprehend both your user interface and your content? For instance, your website’s code should identify the primary language used on the site (such as English) to aid screen readers in correctly presenting the content to users.
- Robust. Is your content intentionally structured so that a wide variety of users and assistive technologies can correctly interpret it?
In order to achieve each of WCAG’s three accessibility levels, you’ll need to meet requirements from each of the four categories above.
Before embarking on your next website design project, start by determining which compliance level is right for your firm. This will include legal considerations (what is the minimum level of compliance legally required for your firm?) as well as an understanding of your particular audience’s needs. For example, a global B2C financial services firm may choose to pursue a higher level of compliance than a regional B2B firm would.
Incorporating Web Accessibility Best Practices in Your Website Design
Some of WCAG’s web accessibility requirements relate to the way your website is developed—the under-the-hood code that makes your website tick. Still others inform the way your website is visually designed. But many touch on both (in the world of websites, design and development are inextricably linked).
To begin, familiarize yourself with a few of the most common web accessibility best practices:
- Color contrast. Your website designer should create a color palette with enough contrast for people with low vision or color blindness to easily perceive and comprehend.
- Font size. Larger fonts are easier for users with low vision to read.
- Descriptive labels. Descriptive labels for buttons, form fields and interactive components clearly describe each component’s purpose and utility.
- Alt text for links and images. These alternative text snippets aren’t visible onscreen. Rather, they tell screen readers and other assistive technologies how to describe images and links to vision-impaired users.
- Table data. Tables, graphs and other data visualizations should be designed so that they are accessible and easy to read. Considerations include sizing, accessible color combinations and contrast, descriptive labels and alt text.
- Captions for video and audio content. This may be especially important if you use video and audio content to convey key information that isn’t presented in written form.
Web accessibility isn’t just a legal box for you to check. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s good for business, too. By understanding these and other web accessibility best practices, you (and your website designer) can craft digital experiences that amplify your brand’s unique value proposition—to everyone.