There are simple things web designers, developers and content specialists can do to make content and web technology accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.
Why Is Web Accessibility Important?
If you're wondering why web accessibility should be on your radar, consider these reasons.
Reach. People who are blind, deaf or mobility impaired do use the Internet — in such large numbers that it doesn't make business sense to ignore them or shut them out. Shawn Henry opened my eyes to this many years ago; most of us are or will BE "disabled" at some time in our lives; it's a broader market than you probably think. Consider folks who need bigger text on pages (especially those over 40). People trying to hit a button or link on a mobile devices with one hand. Arm, wrist or hand in a cast, trying to use a mouse or keyboard shortcuts. I'm at work and my headphones are in the car, and I need to know what this video is saying without sharing with everyone in my office.
Legal protection. Federal and state codes require compliance with Section 508 or other accessibility guidelines, and the courts have awarded large settlements in suits brought against corporations and other service providers.
SEO benefit. Making your web presence friendly to the blind and deaf includes these users you may care about: the Googlebot, the Bing Site Indexer and the Yahoo Web Crawler, to name a few.
Clean code saves time and money. Following the W3C's web standards for coding means your code is better structured, more workable, and more portable between platforms and devices.
It's the right thing to do. Even if the above weren't true — c'mon!
Learning Web Accessibility
Web accessibility isn't brain surgery — but it can be complex, and a bit murky at times. I highly recommend any of the seminars, contests or other events from Knowbility. Some of the WCAG accessibility guidelines are clear cut, and some aren't. Some fixes are easy to implement, and some are a judgment call or require major reworking.
Enter Easy Checks
The W3C recently released Easy Checks — meant to be used by designers and developers to quickly check for "low-hanging fruit" accessibility issues they can address relatively easily, or at least get started evaluating the accessibility of sites and functionality they've created.
Web users with a variety of accessibility aids. Image courtesy Knowbility.org.
Sharron Rush, Firecat Friend and select partner, is the executive director of Knowbility — she led the W3C accessibility team through the creation of Easy Checks. Listen to Whitney Quisenbery's discussion with Sharron about the Easy Checks offering.