Research
11/8/2019 | 6 MINUTE READ

Why Manufacturers Should Pay Attention to Web Accessibility

By Jeff WhiteCo-founder
Kula Partners
Made for Manufacturers

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How accessible is your website? What does it mean for a website to be accessible? Do you know how to fix website accessibility issues? If you don’t know how to answer these questions, you’re not alone — in February of 2019, a study found that 97% of websites have accessibility errors.

It’s clear that most companies don’t understand the importance of web accessibility or what it requires of them. But it’s also clear that they don’t understand the risks involved in not meeting those accessibility standards. Website accessibility standards are enforced by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and companies that fail to meet these standards are vulnerable to litigation.

This isn’t just a hypothetical threat. In 2015, there were 57 lawsuits regarding website accessibility in the United States. In 2018, there were approximately 1,500 lawsuits, including one targeting Apple, and this number will likely continue to grow at the same rate. Manufacturers with inaccessible websites are leaving themselves open to costly litigation.

But you shouldn’t be building an accessible website just to avoid a lawsuit, or even just because it’s the morally right thing to do. It also makes good business sense. 57 million Americans have some form of disability that can make it difficult or impossible for them to use your website. Some of these people will be in positions to make purchasing decisions about your products, but why would they buy from you if they can’t even access your website to evaluate their options? Alternatively, if your website is accessible but your competitor’s isn’t, that can help build a lot of good will with potential customers.

What Does Accessibility Mean for a Website?

We’re all aware of what accessibility means when it comes to a retail location or other physical business — people need to be able to physically access the location and services. This often means building ramps to replace or accompany stairs and providing other accommodations for people using different kinds of assistive devices.

When it comes to your website, there are a number of common web design practices that make navigating websites difficult or impossible for users with a variety of different disabilities.

For example, many people with low vision or no vision use software devices called screen readers to browse the web. Screen readers read the content of the webpage out loud so that users don’t need to be able to read the page themselves. However, screen readers only work with text, so they will miss any website content hidden in images or videos. Website accessibility is about doing the work to ensure that people have as seamless an experience as possible, whether or not they’re using assistive devices like screen readers.

How Do I Know if My Website is Accessible?

If you’re trying to evaluate your website’s accessibility, there is a set of guidelines you can refer to called the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is an evolving set of standards, and the iteration at the time of publishing this article is called WCAG 2.1. If your website meets all the standards laid out in WCAG 2.1, you’re guaranteeing that your website is accessible to the widest number of people.

The WCAG standards sound complicated, but they’re primarily just about being aware of the impacts specific design and development decisions can have for accessibility. Often, it’s just about being aware of how different web page elements are experienced by people with disabilities and the choices you can make as a website owner to make your site more easily usable.

What are Common Accessibility Issues?

If you checked out the link to WCAG 2.1 above, don’t be intimidated by the length of the document. The most common issues on manufacturer websites are straightforward to understand and to fix.

Image Accessibility

Many websites use images to convey information of one kind or another, but images (by default) can’t be understood by screen readers, which makes them an accessibility stumbling block for users with low or no vision. Avoid using images of text whenever possible. You should also attach descriptive alt tags to any image that provides important information. These tags can be understood and read by screen readers, which means that users relying on screen readers can get all the information they need.

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Keyboard Navigation

Many people who are unble to use a mouse or trackpad primarily use keyboard controls to navigate websites. Ensuring that your website is configured to make keyboard navigation easy (including providing a visual indication of which page element is actively selected) makes your website more accessible for people with a variety of disabilities.

Video and Audio Content

If your website includes video and/or audio content (e.g. embedded YouTube videos or podcasts), you should provide easily accessible full transcripts for the audio or video content.

Contrast Ratios

“Contrast ratios” refer to the level of contrast between website text and its background. Many designers prefer low contrast text for aesthetic reasons (e.g. light grey text on a white background), but this makes the content very difficult to read for anyone with low vision. WCAG standards suggest a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for most website text.

Page Hierarchy

Ensuring that your website pages are organized in a logical and consistent way—and that this layout is reflected in all navigation menus—makes your website significantly more accessible for people using keyboard navigation, those with fine motor difficulties, and users with cognitive disabilities. Your navigation should also always show users where they are in the page hierarchy by highlighting the active page in some way.

PDF Content

Many manufacturers rely on PDFs to provide information to users. The WCAG has specific guidelines for PDFs, and if you’re going to use them, you should try to make them as accessible as possible. However, in many cases, a better solution is simply to move as much of the content as possible from PDFs onto pages on your website, where it’s much easier to make accessible.

How to Develop for Accessibility

At Kula Partners, we make accessibility one of the driving forces behind all of our website designs. Accessibility doesn’t need to be thought of as a compromise that somehow reduces the aesthetic of your website. All you need to do is ensure that your design ideas are informed by accessibility standards, and you will end up with an attractive and modern website that works for the largest possible number of users.

If you want to talk about accessibility or how to determine whether your website is violating WCAG standards, please feel free to reach out. We’d be happy to assist any manufacturer interested in embracing accessible design. Download the Manufacturer Website Accessibility Checklist to get started.

Need more information?
Jeff WhiteCo-founder
Kula Partners
Made for Manufacturers
1741 Brunswick Street, Penthouse
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3J 3X8
902-832-0244

 

About the Author

Jeff White, Co-Founder, Kula Partners

Jeff White

Jeff W. White is the co-founder of Kula Partners, an agency designed to help leading manufacturers digitally transform their marketing and sales. A User Experience (UX) and usability expert, Jeff began building sites for the web over 25 years ago. He leads the design and development practice at Kula Partners, Canada’s first Platinum HubSpot Partner agency. A number of years ago, Jeff returned to NSCAD University as a sessional professor, bringing his understanding of web standards to a new generation of design students. A passionate advocate for usability and an open web that is accessible to everyone, Jeff frequently speaks on web design, usability, accessibility, marketing and sales at events such as HubSpot’s Inbound conference. He is also the co-host of The Kula Ring, a weekly podcast that focuses on talking technology, marketing and sales with some of the most interesting minds in manufacturing marketing. Jeff is a father of three and his non-work time is filled with shuttling kids back and forth to the pool, riding bicycles in the woods, and smoking meat on the kamado.

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