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Accessible Tech: How to Make Your Website and Apps More Inclusive

While most commonly associated with physical spaces, the term “accessibility” also applies to the digital world, including websites, apps and other pieces of technology. Not only are accommodations needed to make a website or app accessible to those living with physical or mental impairments, they’re also vital to ensuring that differently abled users get the best possible brand experience – something that’s a priority for every great marketer.

Ignoring Accessibility Barriers = Ignoring $500B in Spending Power

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 61 million people in the U.S. live with a permanent disability, and research indicates that this group controls nearly $500 billion dollars of after-tax disposable income and purchasing power.

Those figures should be reason enough for brands to ensure the websites promoting their goods and services are indeed accessible. But there’s more: A binary mindset regarding accessibility – one that buckets people into categories of “disabled” or “not disabled” – is also exclusive and overlooks many potential users and customers. That’s because disability exists on a spectrum, from situational (no use of hands because they’re full of groceries) to temporary (a broken arm) to lifelong or permanent (born with one arm). Considering disability more broadly not only serves to expand the importance and impact of an accessible website, it increases the consequences of inaccessibility.

While there are many upsides to building accessibility into your brand’s website, there are also downsides to not doing so – and not just a loss of potential revenue. Accessibility-related lawsuits are on the rise, and more than 2,000 such lawsuits were filed in federal courts in 2019. This is yet another compelling reason for marketers to build inclusivity into their digital initiatives.

Designing Technology for All

When it comes to websites, apps and other pieces of technology your brand uses to connect with your target, accessibility is something that must be considered throughout the design and development process, including these three phases:

1. Designing for Accessible Websites

When it comes to the design phase, it’s all about visuals and content. When thinking about how a page looks, keep in mind things like color blindness (making sure color isn’t the only way information is conveyed) and legibility of fonts and type sizes. Also, aim to avoid images of text, which can display oddly, fail to load properly and be difficult to read for visually impaired and blind readers – it’s also hard for assistive technologies to discern. When thinking about how a page reads, copy should follow a simple, logical content structure and be written in a style that can be easily understood by users of all cognitive abilities and reading levels.

2. Develop to Support Keyboard-Friendly Pages

Development is what brings the design elements of a website together – and coding must be done in a way that can be interpreted correctly by screen readers and navigated without a mouse. To make forms and interactive elements accessible for screen readers and keyboard users, additional thinking and special care are required. And when interactive elements cannot be made accessible, alternative content that’s screen reader- and keyboard-friendly needs to be created.

3. Testing with Screen Readers and Assistive Technology

When testing websites for accessibility, it’s a good idea to test in two stages: first with an automated tool such as the WAVE toolbar, and second with assistive technology such as screen readers and keyboard-only operation. Fortunately, the built-in screen readers that come with major desktop and mobile operating systems help to make this process easier. Windows includes “Narrator,” Apple OSX and iOS have “VoiceOver,” and Android ships with “TalkBack” – and all provide thorough documentation and tutorials.

The automated tool will flag many of the most common or basic accessibility errors, while testing with assistive technologies will more closely simulate the experience of a person with a disability. Although testers will never be able to simulate every type and severity of disability, this two-step testing process makes it possible to uncover and overcome many accessibility hurdles.

To build an accessible website, app or other piece of technology, it is not only essential to change your development process – it’s important to embrace a new way of thinking that considers all users of abilities at all times. Adopting this inclusive mindset will deliver an experience that’s better for every user – those traditionally thought of as “disabled,” those with temporary or situational disabilities and everyone, whether they have a disability or not (e.g., everyone appreciates larger text because it’s just more comfortable to read). In short, accessible design is just good design – and what’s best for your target and your brand.

If you’d like help making your website (more) accessible to every member of your target audience, contact Ted Jun at tjun@hiebing.com to set up a call.