The Web has become an essential part of our lives. Although I do belong to the generation who can very well remember the time without the Internet and the Web, I cannot dare to imagine my life without it now. The way it brought the entire world closer, the immediate access to any piece of information, the opportunities it provides to bring any idea to life, the access to endless sources of knowledge, art, music, films, news, and so much more…
However, it is sad to think that the majority, or let’s say a good part, of this wealth cannot be enjoyed by a significant portion of the world population, people with disabilities. There are over 1 billion people with disabilities, or around 15-20% of the population. The UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities defines access to information, including the Web, as a human right.
Fortunately, another positive aspect of the Web is that it significantly eased the way tools and technologies are developed. Web Accessibility is one of such technologies that helps people with disabilities use the Web equally. For example, someone who cannot use their arms, can use a mouth stick to type, or someone who cannot hear well can use captions to watch a video, or someone who cannot see well can use screen reader to read aloud what’s on the screen.
The major categories of disabilities
Visual: Blindness, low vision and color-blindness
Hearing: Deafness and hard-of-hearing
Motor: Inability to use a mouse, slow response time
Cognitive: Learning difficulties, distractibility, difficulties to remember or focus on large amounts of information
For each of the above disabilities certain adaptations are needed in order to build and design a friendly and accessible web content. By designing a website with Accessibility in mind, the advantages are multiple for everyone, and not only people with disabilities. For example:
- people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
- older people with changing abilities due to ageing
- people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
- people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
- people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth
How to make a website accessible
Use text alternatives. This is a feature in HTML for non-text content, such as images, icons, buttons and graphics, audio and video files, and labels. Text descriptions are added to such items and are read aloud by screen readers. They are also used by Search Engines improving organic search results of a website.
Use subtitles. This is an audio to text transcription of a speech or any other audio information. Subtitles are synchronized with the video and shown when a user turns them on. Subtitles can, of course, improve the experience of people without disabilities, in various situations, like watching a video in a silent environment of a library for example.
Create audio descriptions. It entails narration that describes the important details in a video, like scenery and music, essential components to understand the content.
Functionality is available from a keyboard or other modalities beyond keyboard. People who cannot use a mouse can rely on keyboard without losing any functionality of a mouse. Or, people who cannot use a keyboard have access to the means, such as voice recognition or gesture recognition to navigate the Web.
Users have enough time to read and use the content. Some people require more time to type a text or understand instructions and operate controls. Therefore, time limits should be adjustable, content can be stopped, paused or hidden, if necessary.
Users can easily navigate, find content, and determine where they are. A well-organized content can help any user to navigate more effectively.
Text is readable and understandable. Text content should be readable and understandable to the broadest audience possible, including when it is read aloud by text-to-speech.
Content can be presented in different ways, but it is necessary to have sequence of information and a proper mark-up of headings, lists, tables and input fields.
Content should be seen and heard easily. Foreground and background color combinations should provide enough contrast. When users resize text up to 400% or change text spacing, no information is lost.
Content appears and operates in predictable ways. Repeated patterns of the content, including buttons and action items, appear in the same place each time.
Content is compatible with the majority of the user tools. Content is compatible with different browsers, assistive technologies and other media.
Therefore, if you are considering localizing your website into various languages or internationalizing your web apps, make sure to follow the Accessibility standards, ensuring they reach the broadest audience possible, are user friendly and accessible to everyone. Besides, we are all getting old and we will not preserve the same abilities we currently do. As I cannot dare to imagine my life without the Web now, I cannot dare to imagine my life without it in my old age either. Enjoying the freedom of easy access to the Web’s wealth in the old age makes the thought of aging more bearable.