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Blog Post | Mar 28, 2023

Web Accessibility for Disabled Audiences: Understanding the Basics

Making your website more accessible and equitable for disabled people is the right thing to do and makes good business sense. Learn how to cut through the “alphabet” soup of confusing acronyms to better understand what goes into a more accessible website—and why it benefits all your users.

Topics: Website

Web Accessibility
If you run a business, you’re probably very familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the accommodations required so that your facility offers a safe and equitable experience for everyone. But what about your website? While most businesses aren’t required to make their sites accessible, we have a few compelling reasons why you should—including the fact that accessible websites perform better and offer a better experience for all users.

Why Accessibility Matters
For federal agencies and select businesses that contract with those agencies, federal law says your website must be accessible. But for every other business, it's the right thing to do for your customers and your business. Recent research reveals:
  • 75% of Americans with disabilities say they use the Web every day.
  • Globally, customers with disabilities and their friends and families represent trillions in annual disposable income.
  • And yet, many of the top Fortune 100 businesses have websites that fail to meet basic accessibility standards. Even among top shopping sites, one study showed that most commerce pages are far less accessible than the average home page, which can seriously impact the bottom line.
The Differences Between Section 508, WCAG, and POUR
If you've started to do some research, you've probably come across a host of confusing statute numbers and acronyms. You may be unsure of their meaning or how they relate to each other. We cannot emphasize this enough: If you're maintaining a site for a federal agency, there are significant consequences and penalties if the site doesn't maintain specific accessibility standards. But for everyone else, here's a basic summary:

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and it isn't just a suggestion but a federal law. In general, it only applies to federal agencies. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others.

WCAG is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines—a set of standards published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium and recognized all over the world. In fact, Section 508 has WCAG standards built in, which is why the two are often spoken of interchangeably. While WCAG standards can change to keep up with an evolving internet, they were last updated in 2018.

POUR refers to the general design standards that serve as the basis for WCAG. POUR stands for:
  • Perceivable: Content must be available in a way that all users can perceive—for example, including alt text that describes an image to the visually impaired or closed captioning that transcribes the audio portion of a video.
  • Operable: Can the website be operated, used and navigated easily by all audiences, including those who may not be able to use a mouse?
  • Understandable: Clear requirements or instructions, especially for forms or anything required from users.
  • Robust: Creating content and coding that ensures all audiences have an equitable experience, even those using assistive technology.

No matter what industry or business or who your audience is, these principles are an excellent idea for creating an accessible experience for everyone.

Accessible Pages Use UX Best Practices
One major incentive to make your website more accessible: in many cases, you're aligning your site with current UX best practices. And this will make your site more searchable, help it load faster, and perform better. The changes aren't difficult, and you can still maintain a creative, highly functional site.
  • Each web page has a unique title.
  • All web pages use the same header navigation.
  • There's a clear and easy-to-access sitemap.
  • Your site is accessible/functional from all browsers.
  • Audio or video content is not set to auto-play, and all content can be stopped, paused or muted.
  • There's an equitable content experience for everyone. Whether someone has a vision impairment and needs assistive technology or is hearing impaired and needs captions and subtitles, both should be able to get the same quality of information.

Is It Time for a Web Audit?
Even though a website is one of your company's biggest marketing investments, they're not meant to last forever. The average life of a website is two years and seven months, and depending on what industry you're in, design trends, and what platform your website was built on, you may need to overhaul it sooner rather than later.

If you've been thinking about your website's accessibility, it's time to look at the rest of your website to make sure it's functioning—and converting—as efficiently as possible. We're here to help. Your website may not need an entire redesign, and we can recommend cost-effective ways to improve its appearance and performance. Contact us to learn more.