Developing an accessibility strategy

In a world dominated by bottom lines and return on investments, getting buy-in for proper accessibility testing in an already tight budget can be a hard sell.

The cost of properly developing, testing and implementing accessible solutions can be time consuming and costly, particularly if there are legacy systems and software that may need updating. For even large organisations with big budgets and the best intentions, accessibility can quickly drop down the list of priorities.

So if you’re a small business with a finite budget and resource – why would you want to blow a chunk of it on accessibility? Well, making your website accessible is more than just a legal requirement – it can be an important marketing strategy.

When planning an online strategy it’s all to easy overlook the benefits of having an accessible website in favor of delivering something where the results can be more easily quantified – such as search engine optimisation or other marketing spend. The fact is that having a strong accessible website could benefit your pocket as much as the disabled users it’s built for.

The facts speak for themselves…

  • There are 9.8 million people with a disability in the UK, which represents one person in seven, and is more than the combined population of Wales and Scotland. (Source: Disability Rights Commission)
  • This group’s annual spending power totals £50 billion. (Source: Disability Rights Commission)

For any business that’s a pretty large audience to alienate and an awful lot of potential revenue to shut the door on. But the advantages of having an accessible website aren’t limited to an increase audience, it can also help with the overall performance and optimisation of your site.

The wider implications of accessibility

Search engine optimisation
Current search engines don’t understand a lot of the content commonly used on websites. They can’t read text in images, can’t understand Javascript and don’t see multimedia content in the same way that the human eye does. In that way search engines have a lot in common with disabled users.

Much of the assistive technology used by disabled users works in a similar way to search engines, interpreting the content on your site as best they can. Screens readers, for example, read the content of your site in much the same way that a search engine spider will; looking for links, properly marked up well structured content and metadata.

So optimising your site for accessibility naturally enhances the readability of your site for search engines.

Cross platform compatibility
Developers – How often have you been asked “Does it work on an i-Phone?” (a few I’d bet!), and how many times have you been asked “Does it work on a screen reader?” (probably never!) – the fact is the two almost go hand in hand. With more users now accessing the web on mobile devices, cross-browser compatibility is more important than ever. Developing well structured accessibility web content means that your site should be usable on the latest browsers and technology (smart phones, netbooks etc) while also degrading gracefully on older technology, PDA’s and mobile phones.

Enhanced site usability
Many of the solutions you develop to make your site more usable for disabled users may also significantly benefit your other users. Good site structure, easy to use navigation, clear sign-posting and labeling of content all make you site more usable for able bodies users. Enhanced website usability significantly improves online sales conversion.

Developing an accessible site

It is imperative that your business sees accessibility as more than just a solution for a minority group. It’s about delivering a website that appeals to a complete audience, no matter how they ‘have to’ or ‘choose to’ view your content.

Making your site accessible isn’t going to happen overnight (particularly if you’re working with a site that has never had it as a consideration in the past) but the benefits make it worth while. Investing time in site accessibility now could reap the benefits in the future

Useful resources…

W3C Website Accessibility Initiative – A complete accessibility resource providing an introduction to accessibility, help guides, evaluation tools, latest developments and more.

Guild of Accessible Web Designers – A worldwide association of professional organisations, web designers and developers working together to promote the use and preservation of accessible design standards.

Shaw Trust – One of the leading providers of Web Accessibility Services in the UK and the only web accessibility organisation to employ our own testing team; every member is an experienced assistive technology user.

Accessify Forum – An online discussion forum focused on all aspects of website accessibility.

Snook.ca – Colour Contrast Checker – It is estimated that 8% of men and 1% of women suffer from colour blindness (various sources on the web). This tool can be useful for establishing that your chosen colour palette has adequate contrast.

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