Webinar Recap: The Impact of Accessibility

Earlier this week, strategist Josh Amer and front-end engineer Seth Lopez presented on the very important topic of web accessibility. If you were unable to attend, the recorded webinar is included at the end of this post.

Intro to Accessibility

The webinar began with an introduction to the core concepts of web accessibility. At the most basic level, accessibility is about meeting well-established criteria.

Though it’s not often discussed, web accessibility is not a new topic. In fact, the first accessibility initiatives began in 1999.

Web accessibility has gained most of its attention from a series of lawsuits, most notably Target’s $10M settlement with a group of blind users. We also discussed other lawsuits, including a recent settlement between EdX and the DOJ.

These lawsuits have helped establish the standards for making websites accessible. Generally, companies that have been through lawsuits for web accessibility are making sure that their sites comply with level AA of the WCAG 2.0 (we covered this later).

In spite of these lawsuits and established standards, web accessibility has been largely ignored. We discussed some of the reasons for this problem, as well as how you can start to make it more visible.

The Real Impact

While accessibility is often driven by business needs — such as a lawsuit — accessibility is a human issue.

In the second part of our webinar, we heard from a group of disabled users about the impact of web accessibility on their lives.

This group had a number of insightful experiences to share, not all of which made the final cut of the video. The impact on their daily lives was huge, with reports of simple tasks that should take minutes to complete actually turning out to take hours. We greatly appreciated having this group in, and encourage everyone to get groups like this involved when designing and developing web and mobile applications.

Understanding the Guidelines

After learning about the significant impact that web accessibility has on the lives of everyday users, we shifted our focus to guidelines for improving web experiences for these users. Seth walked us through the basics of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), and gave examples of what each principle within the guidelines covers.

The guidelines are organized into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Perceivable is about ensuring that content can be perceived by at least one sense. It includes criteria for font sizes, color contrast, video captioning, and text alternatives for media files.

The operable criteria ensure that a site is navigable in more than one way. It includes guidelines for keyboard control, timed content, and blinking content.

Understandable is aimed at ensuring content is easy to read and understand for the target demographic. This covers guidelines for reading level, predictability, and error handling. Finally, robust covers the use of coding standards to ensure that your site is accessible in a variety of browsers and works with a variety of assistive technologies.

Getting Started

The WCAG is great, but it only tells us what to do, not how to do it. We finished our webinar with four ideas for getting started with web accessibility.

Plan. A key step for accessibility, especially if you are trying to make an existing site accessible, is to have a plan. This usually includes an audit of current state, and steps you’ll take to make your site more accessible. This is one of the most important things to have in place in case of litigation.

Learn. Most developers don’t have the knowledge necessary to make a website accessible. We are big proponents of developer education on this front and even offer an accessibility workshop to help train developers.

Advocate. Accessibility needs a voice in projects or it will continue to be forgotten. We recommend designating accessibility evangelists that will ensure accessibility is brought up in all of your projects.

Include. A website can meet the WCAG guidelines without ever having a disabled user test it, but we think it’s much better to include disabled users in your process. You can start by inviting them to participate in early research, user testing, and you can ensure they are thought of even when they aren’t in the room by doing things like creating personas with disabilities.

This is an extremely important topic that we are passionate about. We hope those who were able to attend took away some key points to think about and those who could not attend will enjoy the recording. If you have any questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to contact us.