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How to ensure website accessibility

How to ensure website accessibility

By Giles Colborne, managing director, cxpartners

More than 30 per cent of a typical website’s audience experiences problems in accessing the right content, according to research from user centred design agency cxpartners.

Accessibility is a huge problem, says Giles Colborne, managing director of cxpartners. He argues that as mobile devices gain in popularity, an increasing proportion of businesses’ website’s audience will be demanding better accessibility.

Improving accessibility should be considered an opportunity; the audience for accessible sites goes far beyond those with a severe disability. 

Checklists, Bobby Tests and technical standards have their place but if you want to ensure accessibility, you need a smarter approach. By addressing accessibility as a strategic, mainstream issue, businesses can increase their audience, raise customer satisfaction and decrease maintenance costs.

Accessibility isn’t ‘www for the blind’

Don’t make the mistake that ‘accessible sites’ are ‘ones that work for blind users’. The audience for accessible sites is vast. It includes people accessing websites from mobile phones; people with non-Microsoft browsers; people with mild disabilities (like dyslexia), those who are in a distracting environment (like mothers shopping online at home) and those who have an average reading age.

More of your web audience may have accessibility problems than you think:

- 4 per cent have a sight problem

- 6 per cent access via a mobile phone or PDA

- 12 per cent use non - Microsoft browsers

- 50 per cent have a reading age of 12 or less
The end of ‘Bobby Test’ accessibility

Most website owners have focused their accessibility efforts on their obligation to do so, with the threat of legal action under anti-discrimination law. This has led to a ‘cover your rear’ approach to accessibility.

Checklists and tools such as ‘Bobby’ have been used to ‘prove’ accessibility.  These tools operate by finding technical problems. The UK’s Disability Rights Commissioner points out that “the most important [accessibility issues] are qualitative...Automoated tools alone cannot verify [accessibility]”. In short: checklists aren’t enough.

Re-defining accessibility

To ensure your site is accessible, you need to start by going back to your business goals. Remember that you want to help users complete a task, such as finding information, paying a bill, or making a purchase. And you want them to be able to do this no matter how they’re plugged into your system. 

You need a model that shows what steps the users go through (navigation), and what information they need at each step (content). Next you need technology that lets you present the same content in lots of different ways. And you need a policy that considers users’ abilities when you commission your site.

In other words, accessibility is a strategic decision, not something to be left in the hands of the HTML coders.

In a nutshell, to move to a device-independent site, map out how all users of all abilities will use the site. Identify quick wins that will help build audience numbers and put in place the procedures, targets and techniques that will let site managers make their sites genuinely accessible, more satisfying to use and easier to maintain.


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