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Web accessibility: 5 things you need to know

Syd Guenther, Major Tom’s Group Director of Web Development, has more than a few websites under her belt. Recently, she has been diving into the world of web accessibility, discovering best practices for making web content accessible to all people, regardless of disability.

Here’s what Syd has to say:

I’ve been developing websites for about 10 years now — long enough to remember the days when rounded corners and custom fonts could only be achieved with images, and icon sprites and background gradients were the key to a successful web 2.0 design.

Throughout my career, a lot has changed in our industry — and for the better. Web accessibility is one of the things that has been around almost since the beginning of the web itself but is just now catching momentum and attention.

Having an accessible website means that your site has been created with the idea in mind that everyone should be able to access and use it, including people with disabilities. This means that people who utilize assistive technologies or may interact with a site by different means (like navigating with a keyboard) can do so without roadblocks. The web should be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability.

Web accessibility is not as simple to unpack as I once thought it was. I’d like to share five key things I’ve learned about it:

1. Web accessibility isn’t just alt-tags

A lot of people are familiar with this best practice. Ensuring that all of your images on your site have alternative text with the use of an alt attribute is a great first step with web accessibility. The guideline is an easy concept, make sure all images that aren’t for decoration have an alt tag describing what the image means to convey.

This is just a small piece of the puzzle for building an accessible site though, in fact, it’s a very small slice of the accessibility pie. There’s a whole host of other guidelines and criteria you can take a look at on the WCAG quick reference guide for web accessibility. So much so, that becoming an expert in web accessibility takes time — it’s no small feat.

2. It’s more than just the developer’s job

As discussed, there’s a lot to consider when thinking about web accessibility. A good amount is the responsibility of the web developers creating the site, but to achieve solid accessibility you need all members of the team involved: UX designers, UI designers, content creators, and developers. Web accessibility needs to be considered and prioritized from the very beginning of a project in all aspects if you want to have an optimal end experience on your website. Knowing this at the start of a project is ideal so your team can plan appropriately.

If you’re considering a new website you may want to check out our Attention-Grabbing Website RFPs That Get Quality Responses blog post for more information about what to include when you’re writing your RFP.

Choosing the path for a more accessible site is an investment — considering roughly 1 in 5 people in North America have a disability, the investment is a sound one. A better experience for a large percentage of your target audience will have return benefits.

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