Why Web Accessibility Matters
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in recent years learning about and implementing web accessibility best practices.
My goals in doing so have been to (1) enable myself to build more accessible websites and (2) help other developers to do the same.
During this ongoing self-study, I’ve come across a few common misconceptions about web accessibility.
Since I believed some of these things myself before I started digging into the topic, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned so that, together, we can help make the web more accessible for everyone.
In this post, we’ll discuss the following:
- Some of the previously mentioned common misconceptions
- Statistics that help clear up those misconceptions
- The potential legal implications of building inaccessible websites
So let’s dive in.
Here’s a short list of some common misconceptions about web accessibility that I’ve come across:
- A very small percentage of a site’s users utilize accessibility features.
- Not enough of a site’s users have a color vision deficiency to justify changing designs to accommodate such users.
- If a disabled user can use a keyboard, they can also use a mouse/trackpad.
- Screen reader users don’t use skip links.
- Easier code solutions equate to better user experience for disabled users.
Let’s get into some statistics that can help us better understand why these statements are inaccurate.
Let’s talk data
Users with a disability
According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of the global population currently experiences a disability. That’s more than 1 billion people. In the U.S. alone, 59.6% of people with a disability have internet access. Therefore, it’s not safe to assume that very few of a site’s users will need accessibility features.
The U.S. Census Bureau has determined that nearly 7.3 million Americans have a vision disability, and the Colour Blind Awareness organization states that there are nearly 300 million people worldwide who have some form of color blindness. So it’s possible that a decent amount of a site’s users will have some form of a color vision deficiency.
Inability to use a mouse
The ability to use a keyboard doesn’t imply the ability to use a mouse or trackpad. The most obvious example of this is people who are blind. In the U.S., as of 2018, 3.8 million adults aged 21 to 64 were blind or had trouble seeing, even with glasses.
But there are several other disabilities, either temporary or permanent, that preclude the use of a mouse, such as:
- Diseases that restrict fine motor control (e.g., Parkinson’s, forms of arthritis)
- Diseases that cause large motor control issues (e.g., multiple sclerosis)
- Hand and/or arm disabilities or injuries
- Repetitive strain injuries, some of which can even be caused by overuse of a mouse
Use of skip links
According to a 2021 WebAIM study, only 14.4% of screen reader users never use skip links. This means that about 85% of screen reader users utilize a website’s skip link, if available, at least some of the time. These numbers demonstrate how important skip links are, especially since sighted keyboard-only users make use of them as well.
Easier code vs. user experience
When building a website, certain code solutions may seem easier than the accessibility best practice for the given use case. For example, instead of adding a skip link, it may seem easier to place the navigation later in the markup and use CSS to visually place it before the page’s content. That way, a user wouldn’t have to worry about tabbing through the navigation just to get to the content, right?
That approach is a common accessibility anti-pattern, and many of those are present on the web. The 2021 WebAIM Million study found 51,379,694 distinct accessibility errors across one million home pages, which is an average of 51.4 errors per page. The study also found that users with disabilities would expect to come across errors on 1 in every 17 home page elements with which they interact.
The 2021 WebAIM screen reader survey also found that nearly 61% of screen reader users feel that web content accessibility has either not changed in recent years or has actually gotten worse. A 2019 Forbes article reported that 71% of users with disabilities will leave a website that’s inaccessible.
So, just because a certain code approach may seem easier, it shouldn’t be assumed that it’ll result in a better experience for disabled users.
Now that we’ve seen how important our design and coding decisions can be to our users, let’s discuss the legal implications of building inaccessible websites.
A 2021 study conducted by UsableNet, Inc., a company that offers accessibility-compliance technology and services, found that the number of U.S. lawsuits that alleged accessibility issues rose 64% in the first half of 2021, as compared to 2020. The study also found that it’s not only really large companies that are the targets — companies with revenue below $50 million were the targets of two-thirds of the lawsuits filed between January and June 2021.
While e-commerce companies are sued the most often (they accounted for 74% of federal cases between January and June 2021), any company or organization is at risk. For example, Domino’s Pizza was sued in 2016 by a blind man who was unable to order from their site using his screen reader. A federal judge ruled that the Domino’s Pizza site violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and ordered the company to both make its website accessible and pay $4,000 to the plaintiff.
In order to avoid lawsuits and their potential implications, it’s better to include accessibility right from the start.
Our motto at Zaengle is “Be Nice, Do Good”, and our desire to embody that philosophy plays a large part in how we build software. It applies to our passion for creating accessible websites because we want to do our best to help the web be more accessible for all. We also want to help others learn how to do the same.
Web accessibility is a topic that is both broad and extremely detailed. Since there’s so much to learn, it’s completely understandable to have some misconceptions. We hope that this blog post helps to clear up some of them and inspires you to dig deeper into the facets of building accessible websites.
We have a few other posts about accessibility that you can check out if you’d like to learn more:
- 10 Foolproof Tips for Maximizing Website Accessibility
- Designing for Accessibility
- How Semantic HTML Improves the Accessibility of a Website
- Accessible Drag-and-Drop in Vue
We’d also like to mention that building accessible sites often requires multiple revisions. There’s always more to learn, so there’s always more to improve. Even though I’ve done complete accessibility overhauls on some of our sites, I still find things to add or update down the line because I’ve learned more about best practices since I made the previous updates. Small improvements here and there may not seem like much, but they add up over time, and the result of each iteration will be a better experience for all of your users.
We enjoy discussing web accessibility, so if you have questions or comments, feel free to send them to us @zaengle.