Stay Vigilant About Web Accessibility

What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility is the process of making websites functional for people of all abilities and disabilities. Websites that subscribe to these goals allow all users to have equal access to information and functionality. For example, sites with semantic HTML and text descriptions of images are easier for blind users using text-to-speech readers or text-to-braille equipment. When text is large and easy to read it helps elderly populations. When clickable areas are large, this helps users who cannot use a mouse or keyboard.

Since democratization of information and access is a common goal for most of us on the internet, it is a good idea to take some steps to make sure your site is in compliance with the five main areas web accessibility tries to address:

1. Visual—Blindness, poor vision, or color blindness.
2. Motor/mobility—Issues with fine motor skills, or an inability to use hands.
3. Auditory—Hearing impairment.
4. Seizures—Triggered by strobing or flashing lights.
5. Cognitive/Intellectual—Developmental, cognitive and learning disabilities.

Braille Terminal
Web accessibility attempts to address these areas by improving the user experience when using assistive technologies such as:
● Screen readers
● Braille terminals
● Screen magnification
● Speech recognition
● Keyboard overlays
● Subtitled or sign language videos

History of Accessibility on the Web
The first Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI 1.0) was launched in 1999 after Tim Berners-Lee(the inventor of the world wide web) began stressing accessibility as a priority to the W3C back in 1996. Since then it has been an ongoing effort with the WAI 2.0 being released in 2008. Originally focused entirely on HTML/CSS, the WAI has grown to be a more technologically agnostic set of recommendations.

6 Steps to Improve Your Website’s Accessibility:
Although this information might be old-hat for some of you, it is never a bad idea to refresh your memory and deliberately implement the concepts of the WAI whenever possible. Here are six things you can do quickly to improve the accessibility of your site:

1. Use Alt tags on all images. This seems obvious, but a surprising number of websites skip out on them entirely. In addition to increasing accessibility, alt tags are also beneficial for SEO purposes. 
2. Use large fonts with decent color contrast whenever possible. 6px Proxima Nova Super-Ultra-Thin at 20% opacity might look really cool, but you are making anyone over the age of 30 cry a little when they try to read it. Also it is not a bad idea to deliver different font sizes for mobile and desktop displays. Some developers have even experimented with makingfont size responsive to the user’s distance from the screen—a little impractical, but neat.
3. Write semantic markup. The adoption of HTML5 has made this easier than ever.
4. Make sure your site is fully navigable with a keyboard.
5. Make sure you give users enough time to read your content - slow down your carousels, sliders and feeds accordingly.
6. Use responsive layouts. When implemented correctly, your website will be useable on devices ranging from cell phones to gigantic LCD TV’s.

These recommendations are just a fraction of the best practices out there regarding web accessibility. Check out the admittedly daunting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Checklist and take it as far as your resources will allow. While some accessibility additions to your site can be a lot of extra work to implement, they are greatly appreciated and memorable to those users and customers who really need them.