Making A Strong Case For Accessibility

By Todd Libby | Smashing Magazine, July 9, 2021 

Imagine yourself as someone with a visual disability. Cataracts, or totally blind even. A site is not accessible because of many factors, willing and unwillingly. Accessibility may have been attended to at the end of the project or not in the budget, or maybe they just didn’t practice it. You can’t access the vital information on the site because it’s not accessible to people with visual disabilities.

Perhaps a person has arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, or another form of motor skill disorder, and there is a part of the site that they cannot access because there is an issue that prevents them from obtaining that information they wish to on a site that they want to buy something on.

These are just a couple of examples of what disabled users face daily when they try and access a website that is inaccessible. The case for accessibility is this; we as stakeholders, managers, teams, designers and developers need to do better in not only practicing accessibility but advocating for it as well.

If you have ever read the WebAIM Million report, you can see where the breakdown is, and until 2021, there hasn’t been much in the way of improvement. Of the 1 million home pages that were tested, over 51 million errors were detected averaging 51.4 errors per page. While the number of errors decreased, home page complexity increased regarding the number of page elements that had detectable accessibility errors.

Inclusive design is a way of creating digital products that are accessible to a wide range of people regardless of who they are, disabled or not, where they are, and encapsulates a diverse spectrum of people. The British Standards Institution (2005) defines inclusive design as:

“The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialized design.”

Practicing accessibility in your workflows and methodologies ensures people — disabled or not — that they can access your product, your website, and your brands. Inclusive design and accessibility go hand-in-hand. Let’s look at some examples of accessibility.

Examples Of Practical Digital Accessibility 

  1. Your site has a color scheme that looks great after the designers are done with the mock-ups or the color scheme your brand uses is “perfect”’ in the eyes of people that do not have a visual disability. For people that have a visual disability like glaucoma, cataracts, or tritanopia (the deficiency of blue in one’s vision) they cannot make out that particular color and it does not meet WCAG standards.
  2. If your light blue font color on a darker blue background did not meet those guidelines set in WCAG, then it would be inaccessible. If you switched to a lighter blue or white font within the 4.5 to 1 ratio guideline that you can read about in (Success Criterion 1.4.3: Contrast (Minimum)), then it would meet the standard and be accessible to more people.
Arial fonts.
  1. You have a site that does not traverse well (or at all) when disabled users use assistive technologies such as a screen reader, keyboard, or voice recognition to navigate around the site because they lack the motor skills or dexterity to do so. An accessible site makes sure there is a way for those users to navigate through the site with no issues. Examples of keyboard navigation can be seen in this video and in this short video about voice recognition.
  2. An accordion component with information that creates content that is not scrollable. It is inaccessible to people that use the keyboard for navigation. Make sure that the content is accessible by keyboard in that instance.
  3. Using alternative text to describe the information in a picture for Blind users. Images that do not have alternative text that describes to screen reader users what the picture conveys are a barrier to blind people, e.g.

<img src=“” alt=“This is my favorite kind of animal, a Maine Coon cat.”>

4. Users of newer technologies, people that live in metropolitan areas, or people that can afford to buy the latest tech, for example, have fewer barriers to break through than people that cannot afford a new phone or tablet, or are in very remote or rural areas.

5. The glare of the sun on your mobile device as you’re on the beach on a sunny day. You’re shielding the screen or squinting to see the screen to read what restaurant to go to after you’re day at the beach is done. That is a situational impairment.

6. A fussy child on your lap moving around while you are trying to read an email or an injured arm as you try to answer an email, hindering your ability to type as you normally would is a situational impairment.

There are a lot more examples of accessibility I could mention but that would take a very long time to write, so these are just a few examples.

Actionable Steps To Get Buy-In 

Two of the most widely used reasons I hear as to why people or companies aren’t practicing accessibility are:

  • “The client has no budget for it.”
  • “My manager said we’ll get to it after launch.”

Buy-In And Support From Executives/Stakeholders 

From the outset, advocating for accessibility starts at the top. Once you have stakeholder support, then you may see support trickle down to managers, then teams, and then individuals. It all starts with you first. Buy-in and support from executives will continuously be successful across the organization.

When the ethical approach doesn’t work, the approach I will take is the financial approach:

“You’ll be saving the company a lot of money when you do this from the start. When maintenance is needed, it won’t take the team as long to maintain the code because of accessibility and clean code.”

When, or if that fails, I’ll go for the legal ramifications and cite instances from the lawsuits that have been won against Target, Bank of America, Domino’s Pizza, and others. It’s amazing to see how fast executives and stakeholders do not want to get sued.

Keeping executives engaged and meeting with them regularly will ensure success with your accessibility initiatives, but will also provide support for when new accessibility initiatives need to be implemented or when there are disagreements among teams on the implementation or prioritization, you have the support of executives.

Being accessible is a good way for a company to differentiate itself from other companies, when you make a quality product, then the company buy-in becomes greater in some instances. Teams that push for accessibility usually lead the way to getting buy-in from other departments and executives. If the product is high quality and makes the company money, that’s when the company is swayed to adopt the practice.

Demonstrations of live testing with disabled users are also another way to get buy-in across the board. To humanize the decision-making process and get executives and colleagues on board by showing them when design choices do not meet user needs by disabled users using inaccessible products. Or one that I have used in the past, don’t ask, just do it.

Most of the time, however, it is how the practice of accessibility can make the company money or the legal consequences that a company can face, that sways an executive to adopt the practice. Then, in those instances, is when an executive or stakeholder starts learning about accessibility if they want to invest in that time.

Coordinating efforts across departments may be difficult and time-consuming at first so that support from the top will help alleviate the pressures and burnout that can happen when taking on the task of creating and implementing an accessibility strategy.

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