The internet should be accessible to everyone, an always-on resource available whenever, wherever and however people need it – and web accessibility goes a long way to making sure it is exactly that.

As Tim Berners-Lee famously put it: “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Accessibility and inclusivity is a priority for every website we design, develop and deploy here at EdgeThreeSixty – so you can be sure your business is getting a digital solution that offers the best possible experience for all end users.

But what exactly is web accessibility, and why is it important?

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring everyone can fully access and interact with all websites, regardless of any mental or physical disabilities or impairments, so all web users have equal access to both information and functionality.

Accessibility is achieved through a combination of website design and software features, also known as assistive technology (AT), at both browser and operating system (OS) level, which help enable people with disabilities to fully understand, navigate, interact and contribute to the web.

Why is web accessibility important?

The internet has become increasingly important to everyday life, and access to it is required across all areas of education, employment and recreation and so it must be accessible to provide everyone with equal opportunities.

And web accessibility is growing in importance as the UK population ages – although disability affects people of all ages and from all walks of life, the likelihood of being affected increases with age.

Around 6% of children in the UK are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults, but this figure rises to 45% in adults over the state pension age – that’s around 11.6 million people.

Add this figure to the 10 million people registered disabled, and the two million with sight problems and that’s more than a third of the UK population for whom web accessibility is vital.

What makes a website inaccessible?

In order to work out whether your website is fully accessible, it’s worth considering what factors affect the accessibility of a website – some examples include:

  • Images without text equivalents cannot be interpreted by users who may be using text-to-speech software
  • Very small clickable areas make it difficult for elderly users or those with motor impairments top navigate the site
  • Complex, technical and non-plain language may be difficult for those with dyslexia or learning difficulties to read and understand
  • In text links that are not differently coloured, sized or underlined may not be visible to users with colour blindness
  • Videos without subtitles or sign language options are unintelligible to deaf or hard-of-hearing users.

What are the effects of poor web accessibility?

Website accessibility affects more than just the user experience, and can have a number of additional knock-on effects for your website, such as:

  • SEO – accessibility applies to search engine crawlability too, and can therefore affect a website’s search rankings
  • Maintenance – inaccessible websites are often poorly structured, making them difficult for developers to work with. Longer turnaround times for development projects mean higher costs for you
  • Interoperability – in the modern digital world, websites need to be accessible to a range of different devices, including mobile phones and tablets
  • Download speed – inaccessibility and poor structure can increase your site’s download time, which can bring about a whole host of other implications.

What are the current web accessibility guidelines?

The Web Accessibility Initiative is an arm of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international web standards consortium, responsible for publishing a series of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to help website owners optimise for accessibility.

You can read more about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines on the Web Accessibility Initiative site.

Website accessibility is also covered under UK law – the Equality Act 2010 requires that “reasonable adjustments” be made to ensure that website content is “provided in an accessible format” for all users. Failure to do so could mean that a legal case is brought against the site owner as a result.

Visit GOV.UK to learn more about the Equality Act 2010 and website accessibility.

What is the procedure for website accessibility testing?

If you’re concerned your website may have accessibility issues, it’s worth considering an accessibility test or audit.

The web experts here at EdgeThreeSixty can test the accessibility of any website, to ensure it complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and follows accessibility best practices.

We use both manual and automated testing techniques to test sites for:

  • User accessibility – including visual, motor, auditory or cognitive impairment
  • Crawlability – for instance, search engines
  • Interoperability – compatibility with all devices.

To find out how an EdgeThreeSixty website accessibility audit could benefit your business, then get in touch here, or give us a call on 0151 223 0001.