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From a developer’s perspective, achieving web accessibility may not be as hard as you think…

As a web developer, there was admittedly a time in my career that I spent heavily focusing on replicating award-winning websites. I enjoyed studying these websites because they were all custom-designed and built using the latest technology with cool animations. However, as time passed, I realized many of these websites were not only inaccessible but sometimes unusable.

When I was introduced to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) back in 2014, I became more conscious of overall product functionality and usability, and found myself critiquing the very sites I once praised. As years went on, I had to unlearn the things I had previously known about developing as I saw the need to bake accessibility to the forefront of my development process. 

Web accessibility is about inclusivity, and as we enter another decade, it’s slightly discerning to see many sites still struggling in this aspect, though there may be a few misleading reasons as to why. So let’s set the record straight and debunk a few common myths regarding accessibility.

Myth #1: It only affects a small percentage of users

It is every company’s responsibility as a collective to continuously work towards an accessible world. One in five Canadians aged 15 years and older have one or more disabilities that limit them in their day-to-day activities according to a Statistics Canada survey.

And legally speaking, every company is obligated more or less to make accessibility a priority – in the U.S., lawsuits filed against inaccessible websites have been on the rise. Having access to all web content is now considered a civil right globally, and it is important that it’s available to everyone no matter their location, language, software, hardware or ability 

Myth #2: Accessible products make a minimal difference to the overall product

Wrong. 

When implementing accessibility into your processes, it’s important to understand best practices, rather than dismissing them or doing the bare minimum. Think of it this way: the challenges involved in creating an accessible product actually fuel innovation and increase the overall market reach while improving brand impact. 

Many WCAG guidelines enhance the overall user experience, such as: 

  • Guideline 2.4, which guides users in finding content and helps them determine where they are on the website.
  • Guideline 3.2, which promotes product consistency, ensuring website elements appear and operate in a predictable manner across the entire site (e.g. navigation is in the same place and buttons serve an expected purpose).

Certain web designs and micro-animations may look aesthetically pleasing, but may not consider accessibility and usability features. These conventional usability patterns help users navigate throughout the site easily, and they can bring a greater return when taken into account. 

Myth #3: It’s an easy fix that can be implemented as a patch

Accessibility considerations should not be an afterthought. In fact, it can cost you a lot more time and money if you try to go back and fix the bugs, rather than implementing accessibility from the jump.

A lot of WCAG criteria should be addressed at the beginning of a project cycle, and this requires consideration from your team at large – product managers, designers, content writers, and engineers alike. 

The Paciello Group, an accessibility solutions provider, suggests businesses take on a process-driven approach to accessibility. When it’s considered at the end of the product development cycle, it may affect the quality of the user experience for people with disabilities. 

Fixing accessibility issues later in production comes with hefty charges and puts a lot of stress on resources.

It may seem like a daunting task, but there are a few things organizations should consider to take the pressure off implementing web accessibility:

  • It’s an investment: The costs associated with web accessibility are generally a one-time fee to the organization, meaning you won’t need to spend this amount on every project going forward. 
  • There are existing tools that support it: Certain content management systems (CMS) already support accessibility and meet WCAG guidelines, saving you time and effort.
  • Address accessibility and mobile together: There are a lot of overlaps when it comes to developing mobile sites/applications and developing sites/applications for people with disabilities .

About 380 new websites are created every minute around the world, so it’s important for us as designers, content writers, and developers to consider the importance of creating an inclusive experience for all. Web accessibility should be an ongoing conversation. Yes, it will be a progressive learning process for many people in the industry, but the earlier we start the conversation, the better. 

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