What Web Accessibility Is, and Why It's Important

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There are lots of tools and resources for diagnosing website accessibility issues — we run you through which ones can help on your site.

What Is Web Accessibility? 

Web accessibility means making your website usable for people who might have barriers to accessing it. Typically it's associated with making your website usable by people with blindness or other visual disabilities, but in a general sense, it means making a website that can be used by people accessing it with a device other than the typical visual screens most people use. Often these devices are screen readers, which parse the underlying code of a website and read it aloud to a user.

Making a website accessible usually requires fixing issues in the underlying code that don't show up as issues to users on visual screens. For example, some web pages rely on images to convey meaning, whether it's by using icons to indicate how to navigate the site, or by having an article that relies heavily on embedded pictures. For users on screens, these don't present a problem, but screen readers can't interpret icons or pictures. In theses cases, there are ways to provide text alternatives to the graphical elements so that the screen reader can make sense of the page.

Why Is Accessibility Important? 

Some organizations are legally required to meet accessibility standards. We can't tell you exactly what the requirements are for your organization, but many government organizations — including public colleges — are now required to meet WGAC 2.0 AA standards on all their websites. Not meeting these standards can open up your organization to legal issues, so it's best to check to make sure you know what your requirements are.

Even if your organization doesn't have to meet legal requirements for accessibility, it's often still a good idea to make your website accessible — not just because it's a good thing to do, but because it can help your website be more effective.

First, making your website accessible can expand your audience. The National Federation for the Blind reports that 2% of people in the U.S. have a visual disability, and it's probably safe to assume that many of them are internet users. For some sites, expanding their potential audience by 2% can be a huge increase, and likely won't require as much work as other ways of increasing your reach.

Second, if something's good for accessibility, it's probably also good for SEO. In many ways, search engines will parse your site in the same ways that a screen reader will — neither can make sense of graphical elements, and both rely on document structure to navigate the page. Sites that make accessibility improvements can also get an SEO boost — which is  one of the larger goals organizations have for their website.

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