The problem is not trivial. According to the information posted by WHO on their website, 1 in 7 people experience disability in some form (over 1 billion!). This number includes various types of visual impairment, and the number is vast: over 970 million people need glasses. Additionally, almost 500 million have problems with hearing.
All of them, and many more, are not able to use digital products the way people without disabilities. And still, with that massive group of possible users (and potential customers), there is not a lot of digital products – websites, mobile apps – that could be used without the struggle. These people want to surf, to buy online, to listen to something, or just to get news. But very often, when they use the software, it almost hurts. It is like trying to use a broken bicycle to ride.
Furthermore, despite such statistics, accessibility is not prioritized on the roadmaps of big companies and institutions. The reason may be a lack of awareness. It seems that the knowledge of “what to do” and “how exactly” is not very common. Perhaps there is also no information on what kind of value accessibility brings.
Accessibility – for whom?
It is about real people with different types of disabilities. A digital product can be used by a blind person, but also by a deaf person, physically impaired, or just having cognitive problems. A person being older and not so fast with operating fast animating websites. It can be only a partial disability, like color blindness. Or myopia. Or a combination of all of them.
Accessibility is primarily focused on people with disabilities. On the other hand, these improvements that are essential for those with disabilities, are also beneficial to all users.
Web accessibility helps:
- users of mobile phones, smartwatches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, etc.
- older people with changing abilities due to aging
- people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm
- people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight
- people using a slow Internet connection
- people with low literacy or who are not fluent in the language
- people with situational limitations, for example, they are in a noisy environment or one that has low light.
All of these users are not typical ‘person with a disability’. But also are affected by the lack of accessibility considerations of the website.
When a user is unable to complete their business, this may result in:
- loss of privacy/security
- loss of reputation for the company
- loss of revenue for the organization.
Companies which incomes are based on sales should think about it very clearly, as by having websites and mobile apps not accessible, they cut off potential customers. There are over 1 billion people around the world with disabilities, and they have considerable spending power.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) defines four principles:
- Perceivable – Information can be presented in different ways; for example, in braille, different text sizes, text-to-speech, or symbols, etc.
- Operable – Functionality can be used in different modalities; for example, keyboard, mouse, sip-and-puff, speech input, touch, etc.
- Understandable – Information and functionality are understandable; for example, consistent navigation, simple language, etc.
- Robust – Content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of browsers, media players, and assistive technologies.
There are currently two stable versions of WCAG:
- WCAG 2.0 was published in December 2008 and has become widely adopted as the standard for web accessibility by many businesses and governments around the world. It defines 12 Guidelines under the four POUR principles. Under each Guideline, there are more specific Success Criteria divided into three Conformance Levels: A, AA, and AAA. WCAG 2.0 defines 61 Success Criteria.
- WCAG 2.1 was published in June 2018, to better address accessibility for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, people with low vision, and people with disabilities using mobile devices. WCAG 2.1 is fully backward compatible with WCAG 2.0 so that if your content conforms to WCAG 2.1, it also conforms to WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.1 defines 13 Guidelines and 78 Success Criteria.
- Australia uses the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, basing its requirements on WCAG 2.0
- Canada uses the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1985. Canada also has the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity, 2016 (based on WCAG 2.0)
- The European Union has the Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act (based on WCAG 2.1)
- The United States has several laws and requirements (some of them are based on WCAG 2.0)
- The United Kingdom has the Equality Act, 2010 (also based on WCAG 2.0).