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The art of accessibility

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone, regardless of disability, is an essential aspect.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Web

What is accessibility

In a nutshell accessibility is about making your website available to everyone. You might think that just because you have a website that anyone can use it…not so. Simple errors, poor quality design, or a lack of proper management can create barriers that prevent potential users from accessing or possibly even finding your site!

Accessibility involves removing these barriers by making websites available to people with web-related disabilities. Much like public buildings that include ramps and lifts for those in wheelchairs or subtitles on TV programmes there are simple adjustments you can make so that anyone can use your website.

And to dispel a common myth - making a website accessible does not mean making it boring! You may not even need to make any visible changes either…most of the changes are found in the code that controls your site, for unlike traditional accessibility, web accessibility is not always about physical barriers.

Below we cover why it is:

  • a great business decision
  • a highly ethical practice
  • easy to implement
  • can save you money

Here at Simius Web we have years of experience in helping you understand and tackle the issue of accessibility.

…can you afford not to read on?

Why is accessibility important to you?

There are 3 main reasons why you should know about accessibility:

Ethical trading

Society is becoming increasingly aware that certain business practices of the past are less than desirable and are changing spending habits:

  • food products are preferred if they are organic and/or free-range;
  • vehicles have ever lower emissions;
  • electrical goods must have a excellent energy rating;
  • coffee, tea and other goods from developing countries are expected to be Fairtrade;
  • even employers are involved with schemes such as "Investors in People".

Websites have their part to play too in the form of accessibility. By making simple changes to your site you can remove barriers that many users face often preventing them from using your site entirely. Leaving the barriers there, or not even checking for them is social exclusion, plain and simple.

The business case

If ethical trading alone is not enough of a business case for you then consider how much business you could be losing by not being accessible!

A significant number of web users suffer from one form of web disability or another. Sight and literacy deficiencies are among the most common issues and can affect as many as 1 in 3 users! Can you afford to lose that proportion of your potential market?

Do you want higher, more accurate visibility in search engines? Do you pay lots of money to a search engine optimisation (SEO) company? Does your SEO consultant mention accessibility or "organic" SEO? If they don't - ditch them! Accessibility uses many of the same rules that apply to good, organic search engine results. In plain English accessibility = search engine optimisation.

These begin to illustrate the business case but they are by no means the whole story. Running an accessible website will typically reduce your running costs, improve server performance and reduce development time.

The legal case

At Simius Web we hope we can convince you about positive arguments for accessibility without getting as far as the legal requirements, but if you are still not sold then read on.

Under ROI and UK legislation it is illegal to discriminate against disabled persons in connection with …, the provision of goods, facilities and services…. The vast majority of websites fall under this definition.

Whilst there are currently few examples of prosecutions being sought they do exist and they are growing. The highest profile case to date was that of a blind man who successfully sued the Sydney Olympics organising committee.

Pressure groups such as the RNIB (UK) carry out name and shame campaigns against industry leaders - and have won. Targets have included banks and supermarkets websites.

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) (now the Equality and Human Rights Commission) carried out a formal investigation of 1000 websites, 80% of which were virtually impossible for disabled people to use. A stern warning was issued warning that organisations would face legal action under the Disabilities Discrimination Act (DDA) with the threat of unlimited compensation payments if they fail to make websites accessible.

Can your organisation face either the public humiliation or the legal action that running an inaccessible could bring you?

The legislation is available here:

…if these reasons are not enough then read Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) - part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) the non-for-profit organisation responsible for setting web standards globally.

Cost effectiveness

A lot of people have a misconception that accessibility will cost them a lot of money. The truth is there is some initial expenditure, that is unavoidable with any investment. However, the savings you make in both the short and the long-term soon rack up and easily outweigh any costs incurred..

Your site will be easier to maintain on a day-to-day basis. Converting or writing material for your site will be quicker and easier. As for future-developments, the savings there can be dramatic. Redesigning your site would take minimal effort and require no down-time. By totally separating your content from the style, a practice at the core of accessible design, you can future-proof your site from costly re-development when you need a new look.

If you pay for the amount of bandwidth you use you can also make savings there. Accessible code is typically much smaller than code generated by other design approaches. It might not seem like a big saving in itself but the added benefits - faster loading times and less effort required by your server to name a couple.

Finally, in case you missed it earlier on this page - you will also make massive savings on paying for search engine optimisation!

How Simius Web can help you with accessibility

We can carry out audits on existing websites, help you work through resolving existing problems and even help identify those sections of your work-flow processes that need updating to ensure your website remains accessible…we help you get your site up to standard then put the power in your hands to keep it that way.

At Simius Web we have developed a thorough auditing system enabling us to produce reports detailing the current state of your website. The audit centers around the WAI's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines but also includes many other features that form part of the larger jigsaw that makes up a good website including:

  • coding standards
  • usability
  • cross-browser testing
  • download optimisation
  • search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • other industry best practice

We can also make recommendations as to how to resolve each of the issues or work with your developers to iron them out.

Our expertise also covers the Guidelines for UK government websites issued by the UK Cabinet Office and we have advised numerous clients on these (no longer current but still contains many excellent practices).