What is an Accessible Website?
An accessible website is a website that can be viewed, accessed and experienced by everyone, including people with disabilities. People with disabilities require assistive technology devices to view, read and access websites. For example, there are special browsers for the blind, the hearing impaired, and special devices for amputees, and more. In order for these assistive technology devices to view, read and access websites, these websites will need to be in compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0/2.1) as well as HTML5 World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.
It is sad to say that 90% of websites out there are not accessible to people with disabilities. Their assistive technology devices will not work properly on their sites meaning, they won't be able to navigate its content properly and in the proper or even logical order.
WCAG 2.0 / 2.1 are stable, referenceable, technical AND international system of coding standards. It has 12-13 guidelines that are organized under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are attainable in three levels: A, AA, and AAA.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets the main international standards for the World Wide Web and its accessibility. W3C created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) which are similar to Section 508, but on an international level. Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.
At the time of this writing, there is no law (in the USA) that requires the general public to be in compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards. However, websites related to federal government agencies, with some exceptions, require that their websites must be fully accessible and in compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
CANADA: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA)
The AODA was enacted in June 2005, with five sections that have various compliance dates beginning in 2010. New public websites, significantly refreshed websites, and any web content posted after January 1, 2014, must meet WCAG 2.0 Level A Guidelines.
EUROPEAN UNION (EU) DIRECTIVE
EU Directive 2016/2102/EU published on December 2, 2016, is an EU legal act to make public sector websites and mobile applications accessible across the EU. EU countries must adopt measures to incorporate the directive into national law before September 23, 2018, in order to achieve the objectives set by the directive.
USA Section 508
Access to information and communication technology (ICT) is addressed by the standards and guidelines issued under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. In January 2017, this regulation was revised to include WCAG 2.0 standards with compliance expected beginning January 2018.
The Revised 508 Standards include a "safe harbor" provision for existing ICT. Under this safe harbor, unaltered existing ICT (including content) that complies with previous 508 Standards does not need to be modified or upgraded to conform to the Revised 508 Standards.
This safe harbor applies on an element-by-element basis, so each component or portion of existing ICT is assessed separately.
The Pros: The pros to building and maintaining an accessible website.
- Over 1-Billion People with Disability. One out of five people have some form of disability. That's over 1-billion people on the planet earth. That's equivalent to 20% of the world's market that you're business has been missing out on. That's something to think about.
- SEO Friendly. Increased visibility, sales, site's popularity and even lower your bounce rates. If your website is accessible, then you're website would also be optimized to be search engine friendly. That means higher ranking organically on relevant search results which equals to more relevant website traffic which translates to more business.
- Avoid Lawsuits. People with disabilities could feel discriminated upon. It's the same as not having wheelchair ramps to enter your business. By having an accessible website, you can avoid such frivolous lawsuits.
- Improved Positive Public Relations. An accessible website welcomes everyone.
- Lower Design and Maintenance Cost. A brand new business and/or website have an advantage on how to lower their design and maintenance cost by building an accessible website in mind from the start. This will also make the website easier to maintain in the short and long-term basis.
- Avoid Lawsuits. It's the law, at least on some countries. Canada have already made it into law that all websites built from 2015 will need to be in compliant with accessibility laws by 2025. United Kingdom (UK), the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities, which includes website interface for people with disabilities. In the USA, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was revised to include WCAG 2.0 standards and compliance is expected to begin on January 2018.
The Cons: The disadvantages to building and maintaining an accessible website.
- Possible Higher Overall Business Cost. Rebuilding, converting or replacing an existing and heavily marketed website to be an accessible website could have drastic repercussions to your online sales that you may never recover from. With the new accessible website, your website ranking could vary in performance during the transition. Therefore, the timing, the execution and a seamless transition will be key to overcoming this obstacle.
- Low Tech Approach. If your customers are used to your old website with all the whistles and bells, they might be in for a little surprise to see a more simplistic approach to the website interface. For some, it could be a turn-off.
- Higher Web Design Cost. A standard website can be created, built and managed by the business owner whereas an accessible website will need to be built by a web designer or web developer who specializes in designing websites that is accessible.
- Higher Website Maintenance Cost. Again, business owners with little technical background can login, update and add content to their website without worrying about their website being accessible. With an accessible website, a website designer will need to incorporate the new content or edits to the website to ensure that the website remains fully accessible.
- Discrimination lawsuits. Having a website that is not accessible is like having only stairs to enter your business location. It discriminates against people who uses a wheelchair.