An accessible website is a website that has been designed so that it offers the same usability to people with disabilities as it does to able people.
A legal requirement in many countries, not designing an accessible website is nowadays regarded as discrimination and can open its owner to being sued on this ground. New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2008, showing its commitment to this issue.
How Is a Website Accessible?
Accessibility is defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which has published a set of guidelines. They make little sense to non-programmers but the key principle to remember is that content, navigation and functionalities should be usable by all. It can be as simple as providing alternative text to images, description to hyperlinks, a website map, removing flashing graphics, or it may have to be embedded deep in the code structure.
True accessibility relies on up-to-date XHTML code and is something that can only be achieved by professional web designers. DIY website software, content management systems, ready-made websites which can be bought cheaply off the internet usually fail to keep up with the latest code and will not be suitable.
The Costs of Making a Website Accessible
Yes, there are some costs involved, and how much depends at what stage of the website development you decide to incorporate accessibility. If you are having a new website designed, or are re-designing an existing one, making this decision at the very beginning will be easier and may add around 10-15% to the cost of designing a website.
However, if you are thinking that what you need is a working website and that you will make it accessible ‘later’, don’t. For the reasons explained above, the whole coding of a website can be involved in accessibility, and doing it this way may potentially mean having to rebuild your website from scratch, and paying for 2 websites to get only 1.
An Accessible Website Is a Sound Business Decision
According to the latest survey conducted in New Zealand in 2006, 20% of the country’s population suffers from some form of disability. If your company isn’t dedicated to providing goods or services to people with disabilities, you may think that you don’t really need an accessible website, but, beside the legal issues, can any business really afford to ignore 20% of its potential client base simply because their website hasn’t been designed in a way that makes it usable by people with disabilities? Then, with an ageing population worldwide, eyesight problems also affect more and more people who will want to enlarge the text of your site, and if it isn’t accessible, your beautifully crafted layout will fall apart when they do.
Accessibility will also contribute to your Search Engine Optimisation strategy, and improves SEO results, as Google knows it means up-to-date, valid code, which it values. And while its robots can’t see images, they can read descriptions which will help them index your site correctly, so making your website accessible makes business sense in more than one way.