There are two types of people in this world;; those who have disabilities and those who haven’t found theirs yet.
We all use assistive devices every day, want to travel 60mph to get to work? You need an assistive device, it’s called a car. Want to grind the finest Luwak coffee for your morning pick me up? You need an assistive device, it’s called a bean grinder. Want to collaborate with people half a world away? You get the picture...
“Who cares if my website is not accessible to people with visual or hearing impairment, they probably aren’t in my target market and even if they were it’s a tiny percentage of the market - not worth the effort.”
You Are Wrong - And this is why...
Blind and visually impaired people account for 285,000,000 (2013) of the world population. Deaf and hearing impaired make up 275,000,000 (2004).
To put all this in perspective, the population of the United states of America is around 315,000,000 (2013). If your application is not web accessible you are in effect ignoring the planet’s 4th and 5th largest “countries”. How’s that for Big Data?
Accessibility is unfamiliar, but not out of reach
Accessibility is not hard, it’s just easier to ignore it and hope for the best. Just like anything new when you start out it looks like a mountainous task and it’s all too easy to return to base camp claiming conditions were unfavorable and the task was not worth the time and effort for the benefits gained.
Fortune favors the brave so don’t follow the crowd, take a step ahead of your counterparts and open up to a fresh pool of untapped revenue in users that rely on accessibility with these starter tips.
ARIA Landmark Roles provide feedback to the user about the intention of a section in a web page, whether it be a navigation area or main content block this helps to better understand the overall structure much like the three blind monks describing an elephant based on the part they are interacting with at that moment.
Use appropriate ‘alt’ text to describe an image for the benefit of the visually impaired who may not be able to make out the image or struggle to appreciate the context. Consider writing a description of the image based on the flow of your content so that it will read in such a way to make sense to the user what you are conveying because a screen reader will dictate the content up to the image - read the alt text for the image - and continue on reading the content that follows. ‘Tree’, although accurate, isn’t very useful without context to explain the relevance of this image in particular. ‘General Sherman - world’s largest tree - Tulare County, California’ might be a better option and be much more interesting and useful to the user.
Give links appropriate state styling to provide useful feedback to the user as to whether the link is active or has been visited previously by the user. Most browser clients have default link styles (blue and purple link text) so just remember that if you amend these styles they should convey the link states just as well as the browser default styles do.
Accessibility is an exercise in hearts and minds, when you look after those with accessibility needs they are more likely to use your products and services as well as recommend you to others due to your adherence to web accessibility standards.
Put yourself in the shoes of the blind user by using a screen reader and wearing a blindfold to give you a real sense of what it is like to use your website as a visually impaired person.
For further in-depth articles and tips you should checkout The Accessibility Project where some of the brightest minds (and myself) have contributed to a community-driven effort to make web accessibility easier.