When you work in the business of creating something, be it selling a brand or promoting a cause, you want it to be seen by as many people as possible. The more barriers you put in front of a prospective audience, the lower the potential impact.
This, essentially, is the principle behind online accessibility – eliminating the barriers an audience faces. After all, almost one in five people in the UK has a disability.
Websites designed with accessibly in mind ensure that mentally or physically impaired users can reach and consume the content in two ways: unassisted and assisted. An analogy I like to use is – if the web were a house, the former is the staircase (your basic browser, essentially) and the latter a lift (the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers).
Working, as my agency does, with a host of clients in the pro-social sector, these principles are of particular relevance and are why we spend a lot of time considering the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)… as should anyone who uses digital to convey their message.
First published in 1999 by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), the second (and current) edition was published in 2008 and the guidelines it contains are still considered to be the global standard in terms of accessibility.
No doubt millions of users have benefitted from their implementation. However, it can still be tricky to see a way through the minefield of accessibility best practice. Technology is constantly evolving and, for those of us at the sharp end, some of the criteria might be seen as unnecessarily restrictive.
So we have to ask ourselves: do we look to WAI to deliver an updated set of criteria or do we adopt a completely new, more inclusive, approach… one that is about more than just developers?
My own agency, Zone, has just created and shared an accessibility guidelines web app to help people find explanations for criteria quickly and easily, and by people I mean everyone – from editors through to UX designers.
We’re certainly not alone in creating apps such as this, and accessibility is being taken more seriously in the wider developer community. For example, our trade bible Net Mag recently dedicated a regular section to accessibility.
However, I think it's highly important that this movement filters out beyond the technical field. As traditional barriers in the production environment are broken down, with developers sitting alongside designers, writers, testers and so on, shouldn’t everyone involved in the project be concerned about accessibility principles?
For example, a copywriting approach might include thinking about clear signposting, meaningful links and alternative text for multimedia content. Designers, on the other hand, might reconsider a colour palette to take into account those suffering from colour-blindness.
When everyone comes together to think this way, the result is a site such as gov.uk, which is renowned for its universal user-centric design, or the accessibility help pages of the BBC – some of the most thorough and thoughtful in the world today.
It’s simply about remembering the point of accessibility: to empathise with every possible user type and to give them the best experience possible… and, to make sure that everyone in our organisation is singing from that hymn sheet.