Can you explain what online accessibility is?
It’s about making electronic content available to all users, especially those with disabilities. The most difficult type of disability to support is blindness, which is why you hear about screen readers so often. But that’s just a small part of the challenge; other types of disabilities include low-vision, color-blindness, mobility impairments, hearing impairments, and cognitive impairments.
Sometimes the definition is expanded to include people who have older or slower technology; people with a temporary disability, such as a broken hand; and people who are inexperienced with tech.
Why is it important for business owners and brands to make their websites accessible?
First off, because it’s the moral thing to do—provide equal access to all.
Business-wise, it increases your potential customer base which means more sales. An accessible website is also more robust—it supports browsing on multiple devices such as tablets which is obviously ideal.
Lastly, businesses can avoid an accessibility lawsuit, which is happening more and more often recently.
Are there any added benefits to making your website accessible?
In general, a website is more usable when it’s accessible; examples of this include clear form input labels and ample hit areas links and buttons.
There are also SEO (search engine optimization) benefits from doing things like using headings properly and providing alternative text.
Providing an accessible website also eliminates the need to provide alternative media formats like Braille, large print, or a CD-ROM. It also shows you care–it’s a big plus for public relations.
How hard is it to make your website accessible?
To make a website accessible from scratch requires little extra effort, if you know what to do. Using best practices in design and development in itself is a great start:
- For developers, this means semantic markup and progressive enhancement.
- Designers must be careful with different aspects in use of color and define keyboard interaction in wireframes, such as focus management.
- Content owners and writers need to ensure proper headings, labels, and alternative text is provided.
Implementing customized functionality is risky and can get complex quickly, so stick with native web elements as much as possible. Same thing goes for native app development.
Can you give a few practical tips that business owners could use to make their site more accessible?
Go through your website with the keyboard only. Ensure headings are used properly, and all images have alternative text. Toolbars and automated checkers are only a start but worth using. A good one to start with is WAVE by WebAIM.
You created Easy Chirp, a platform designed to make Twitter more accessible. Can you tell us about it?
The simple interface is great for older people, new users, and folks with a cognitive impairment. The app won an award from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and the AFB (American Foundation for the Blind).
What inspired you to create Easy Chirp?
In January 2009, I noticed that Twitter’s web interface was not very accessible. I tweeted about it and a colleague of mine suggested I use the Twitter API to create and an app to fix it, since he knew I was an experienced web accessibility developer. The original name was “Accessible Twitter” and the name was changed a few years later.
Anything else you’d like to share to make the web more friendly?
One tip for Twitter users: if you tweet an image, you can use Easy Chirp to include alternative text for the image. It’s the only Twitter app that does so.
For developers and designers, check out my blog on web accessibility, Web Axe, which I’ve been running for nine years.
A final thought for all, remember that you just don’t know what technology a person is using to access your website, and we must all accommodate for that.
Dennis Lembree is an experienced web professional and that’s passionate about the user experience. His career has spanned the start-up world, as well as large companies including Ford, Disney and his current role at eBay.
Dennis’s passion about creating a high user experience for all users led him to create Easy Chirp in 2009. He presents at numerous conferences and webinars about accessible web development.
Dennis lives with his wife and two boys in Northern California. In his spare time you can find him playing guitar or at a football game.