Fully accessible websites are not only the law, they’re also good practice and help you reach a wider audience.

The term accessibility is a popular one these days, used for everything from buildings to web design, but what does it actually mean? The word “accessible” is commonly defined as “easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.” So, at its core, accessibility refers to the ability to access something, which is, not so coincidentally, precisely what the word sounds like when spoken. 

Accessibility brings to mind different things for different people. Some people picture a building with a wheelchair ramp, button-controlled doors, and elevators. Some think of Braille menus at restaurants and signs with tactile print in hotels. Still, others think of fire alarms which light up and make noise or closed captioning on their televisions. All are common examples of accessibility that can be easily seen. Other examples of accessibility are less visible, such as wide aisles in shops, sloped sidewalks leading up to intersections, and features on phones and laptops that can read text aloud. However, in all of these cases, there is the common theme of making life easier or possible for people with disabilities, giving them the same information and level of access as everybody else.

In today’s ever-connected world of technology, accessibility refers to the ability of all people to connect, browse, understand, and interact with a website, program or device. This includes turning on a device, successfully navigating its interface, correctly interpreting the content, operating its controls and submitting information. A website that is accessible allows a person to consume all of its content and take advantage of all its features, regardless of their disability. For the purposes of this and future blogs on the subject, web accessibility will be discussed primarily in the context of people with disabilities.

Why is Accessibility Important?

Why should accessibility even be considered when discussing design and website strategy? To begin with, in Ontario, making websites accessible to everyone is the law. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed in 2005. According to AODA, all private sector businesses with fifty or more employees and all public sector organizations must make all new or significantly updated public websites accessible to persons with disabilities.

A website’s ability to connect with and be accessible to people with disabilities is of paramount importance if you take into consideration the following statistics from Stats Canada:

  • Approximately 6.2 million Canadians 15 years of age or older reported having one or more disabilities in 2017.
  • More than 80% of persons with disabilities in Canada use at least one disability aid or assistive device.
  • 16.6% of working-age (15-64) Canadians reported having a disability, and 37.8% of seniors also reported having a disability.

We can extrapolate from this data that having a disability is not an isolated phenomenon. Even if only 40% of those who identify as being disabled have disabilities that affect their use of technology, that’s almost 2.5 million people in Canada who may be unable to use a website that is inaccessible compared to a website that is fully accessible. That’s 2.5 million people without crucial information, unable to keep up with social trends, and who cannot purchase specific products or services. As baby boomers continue to age and the number of Canadians with disabilities continues to rise, a website accessible to everyone will be far more successful than the ones that do not adopt this objective.

Accessible websites follow well-defined coding standards. This makes a website easier to maintain for developers and easier for users of Assistive Technology to interpret. Google can more easily crawl through a website that is organized, properly tagged and standardized. And when Google understands content, it can more effectively direct it to relevant users. It will be more likely to place the website closer to the beginning of search results for related keywords.

For these reasons, making websites accessible is lawful, sensible, and compassionate. In addition, a website that is fully accessible will reach a wider audience, providing benefits for organizations, persons with disabilities, and society as a whole. Future articles in this series will dive deeper into web accessibility, providing examples of how to do it, how not to do it, and real cases of where accessible and inaccessible websites make a difference.


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