Website Accessibility is Good for Your Members

By Tony Tullio

When planning a new website project, it’s common to think about design, functionality and content, but rarely are decision-makers thinking about accessibility . . . until now. Accessibility usually enters the discussion as a line item buried in a long list of other requirements. Typically, it is only included in the scope because of new legislation and the threat of heavy fines. Sure, it’s bad for business to pay fines for not complying with accessibility standards, but there is a bigger and brighter picture here. Accessibility is actually good for business! It really does make sense to build your website to be accessible for people with disabilities, right from the outset.

Bigger Audience

Ensuring your website is accessible will increase your user base. Statistics Canada reported that there were approximately 5.3 million Canadians living with some form of disability in 2012 (that number is undoubtedly larger today). This translates into roughly 14 per cent of the population that may not be able to use your website. Ignoring them is bad for business.

Improved User Experience

User experience (UX) and accessibility go hand-in-hand. When you are designing your website to meet the goals of your users, you are trying to make it as easy as possible for them to find what they are looking for. Now, picture the people using your site as being partially deaf or blind. The same principles apply to this user, except you will need to think about how they will use the website in a different way. This encourages a more intuitive design, one that is less likely to have complex visual cues to distract users from their end goal. These are good UX principles to abide by, whether users are disabled or not!

Search Engine Results

Accessibility is also good for Search Engine Optimization. One of the fundamental requirements for compliance has to do with providing descriptive text for all images. This allows screen readers to describe all elements of a webpage to a visually impaired person. This is the same meta data markup that is used by Google to crawl a website. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between providing code that helps assistive technologies, like screen readers, and writing code designed to encourage search engines. A few other relevant examples include:

  • providing captions for various forms of multimedia;
  • ensuring headings, links and labels are descriptive and in logical order; and,
  • using consistent structure that is easy to interpret.

Complying with accessibility requirements will not only help your member experience by improving search engine visibility, but will offer a much better user experience.

Legislation

The last reason to build your website with accessibility in mind is quite simple: it may be the law. In Ontario, for example, the provincial government has made it mandatory for Ontario-based organizations with more than 20 employees to file an accessibility compliance report. Currently the AODA (the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requires new public websites and significantly refreshed websites to comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A accessibility requirements. Starting in January 2021, the AODA will require Level AA compliance. Penalties for not complying are harsh and range anywhere from $200 to $50,000 a day, depending on the size of the organization. Other provinces are following suit in developing accessibility standards and legislation.

So, there you have it! Legal reasons aside, it makes good business sense to build your website with accessibility in mind. To learn more about website accessibility, click here.

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