Accessibility in Web Development: How eCommerce and Business Websites Benefit from It

The web should give equal access, experience and interaction to all people - whether with or without disabilities. Implementing web accessibility guidelines is paramount for a website of any kind and target segment. In this article, we’ll give a few convincing business-related arguments in favor of accessible web development. 

According to the letter of the law, offices of many world’s organizations and offline stores must be equipped with whatever makes them accessible for people with disabilities. Though statistics vary, most studies state that about ⅕ of the world’s population has some kind of disability. Today, some of these people use the Internet, which means they fall under the target audience of ecommerce and other business websites.

Apart from ethical and legal considerations on equal rights for everyone in the World Wide Web, it would be simply unwise for business owners to shut out online shopping for people with disabilities. This is where the concept of accessibility emerges. Inaccessible website translates to profit crunch for businesses, and, in some cases, it could even bring about fines and litigation because of the breach of the law.

Web Accessibility: Definition and Key Principles

Term Definition

Web accessibility refers to a set of inclusive practices and guidelines to make interaction of people with disabilities and the web apps a) possible and b) more convenient.

Accessibility is crucial for such categories of people with permanent disabilities:

Types of Disabilities List
or any combination of the above as well as for elderly people, temporary and situationally disabled people.

Accessibility has to do with major components of web apps: design, development, and content. Creating all of these with accessibility in mind ensures that all users are able to interact with and contribute to the web.

4 Principles of Accessibility

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization committed to improving the web, there are four main principles of accessibility.
The content of any website should be

  • perceivable. Information and UI components can not be invisible to all of senses of people with disabilities.
  • operable. UI components and navigation can not require interaction that a user cannot perform.
  • understandable. The content or UI operation cannot be beyond understanding of the users.
  • robust. As technologies and user agents evolve, the content should always remain accessible.

If any of these are not true, users with disabilities will not be able to use the website.

Websites Where Accessibility Is a Must

Multiple non-discrimination mandatory laws and policies related to web accessibility have been issued almost in all European and Asian countries, Australia, the US and Canada. In particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognizes Web accessibility as a basic human right. Per Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there should be no barriers for people with disabilities to use technologies in places of public accommodation, i.e the World Wide Web.

Companies and brands could be subject to multiple web accessibility policies - from governments of the countries where they operate, trade associations, and partner organizations.

The following websites, among others, are bound to be accessible by the law:

  • websites of government-owned institution, ministries, and agencies
  • websites of schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions
  • websites of organizations eligible for government financing
  • specific organizations' intranets and internal websites
  • ecommerce websites selling products and goods for people with disabilities

Even if your website does not fall under the listed categories, you would benefit from making it accessible for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Business Implications of Website Accessibility

Just as organizations' objectives and motivations vary, so their business cases for web accessibility do. You should consider making your web app accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities, out of ethical and business implications. According to W3C, organizations and business that develop their websites with accessibility in mind benefit from

  • better search results
  • search engine optimization (SEO)
  • larger audience reach
  • reduced legal risk and maintenance costs
  • demonstration of corporate social responsibility
  • and increased customer loyalty.

The more so, accessibility guidelines overlap with other best practices for website development for

  • mobile web design
  • device independence
  • multi-modal interaction
  • and usability.

Different approaches to accessibility (or a combination of these) should be applied to a web app depending on its target audience with a specific type of disability.

Key Accessibility Practices in Web Apps Development

The rule of thumb in accessible web development is as follows: all requirements should be considered, outlined and clarified before the first line of code is written. This saves time, money and efforts - as opposed to the case when a live web app is converted into accessible one after the fact.

Pay equal attention to both components of web accessibility:

  • content (website editor should make every line of text clear and concise)
  • functionality (website designers and developers should follow the best practices in accessibility).

Accessibility guidelines should be kept in mind on every development stage of a web app.

Components of Web Accessibility

While on initial stages of project development

  1. Analyze the market niche and target audience of the web application. This way, you’ll draw a portrait of a potential user and his/her disabilities. For instance, if your website sells optics, it would most likely be visited by people with eye disabilities. So, care most about hue-saturation-intensity, font size, scalability.
  2. Work out a minimum viable user experience (MVUX) and outline accessibility requirements for the website.
    At the very minimum, your website should be “readable” for screen readers, which are widely used by blind or visually impaired people, and other assistive technologies, such as mouse-sticks. At least the main pages should support keyboard control and Tab navigation and have a link to skip navigation. All graphics and images should be accompanied with informative descriptions; Alt text field should not remain blank. Slugs for all pages and links on the web pages should be informative. Any video-content should have subtitles.
  3. Combine accessibility requirements with the rest of the project scope.

While on project implementation stage

  1. Develop the website UI following the pre-defined accessibility requirements in design and page layout. Use ready-made or custom-tailored check-lists for excessive web apps implementation in the process.
  2. After every minor release, QA engineers should check if accessibility requirements have been followed. This could be done with screen reader or other simulators or free Chrome Extension, axe-Coconut, for experimental accessibility testing; the extension immediately points out to accessibility issues on a web page.
  3. For apps in production and under development, always leverage between adapting existing functionality per accessibility standards and developing new functionality.

In our further article, we plan to delve deeper into what it takes to make a web app accessible and give practical tips and techniques for this. Stay tuned!

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