Topic: August 2017 – Criterion
4 Ways Accessible Websites are like Accessible Roads
Imagine you are going to drive to a store to buy some groceries. If you had two options for your commute, one being a nearly-direct path from your home to the store and another being a path that takes three times as long, often has traffic jams, and constantly has roadblocks and detours, which road would you take?
As important as navigation is to our physical world, it is just as crucial to the electronic world. When there are roadblocks in navigating the physical world, we get out our GPS and take a different road.
Online consumers do the same.
Keep in mind that there are nearly 1 billion people worldwide who currently live with a disability. Think of your website as a road between potential customers and your product. The trick is to make the path between the two as smooth and direct as possible. If customers cannot navigate your road, they will detour to your competitor’s.
Here are four ways accessible websites are like accessible roads:
- Titles & headings are like road signs. If a customer is on his way to your store, he needs to know what to expect and how to arrive. When you have web pages with titles that describe their purpose, you help the customer know what to expect and where to go. When headings and labels within your website pages are nested and described accurately, it’s as if the road to your product is open and clear of traffic jams.
This also helps with search engine optimization. Sites that are easily navigable turn into sites that people stay engaged with, and therefore sites that easily attract more customers.
- Content bypasses are like highways. Highways allow for people to travel quickly around or through an area without having to stop unnecessarily. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.4.1 discusses the need to provide bypasses around repeated content. This may be done by adding links to the top of a web page or by allowing a potential customer to jump over repetitive content.
- Turning on the focus is like turning on street lamps. Potential customers that rely on keyboard functionality need the focus indicator/outline (most often simply called ‘focus’) turned on. This means that as they are tabbing through a website, there is a box, underline, or other visual change that happens to each linked button they come across. Without the focus turned on, the keyboard user cannot view where the tab is moving. In many cases, the keyboard-reliant customer will not purchase from a site where the focus is turned off. The focus must travel sequentially and logically, which typically means from left to right and from top to bottom. Additionally, the focus must adhere to the WCAG color contrast ratio (WCAG AA = color contrast ratio 4.5:1 for normal text).
- Location options are like a user-friendly GPS. Using a GPS on our cell phones is typical in today’s world, especially when we aren’t familiar with the roads we are traveling on or if we need to find a faster, more-convenient route. For those traveling around on your website, you want to make sure that your site’s built-in GPS is easy to use and up to date. According to WCAG 2.4.5, there should be more than one way to locate a web page within a set of pages. This should include two of the following: providing a table of contents, providing a sitemap, offering a search function, providing a list of links to other web pages, and linking to all pages on the site from the home page. This allows potential customers to control the content they engage in on your site. Giving them this freedom will keep them on your site and coming back for more.
The more universally user-friendly you make your website, the more traffic flow you will get turning more viewers into customers. While this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of things to do to make your website compliant to Section 508 and WCAG, we are hopeful this analogy provides a new way of thinking about accessibility. While accessibility is necessary for users with disabilities, it is also a more universal way of building the foundation of your website’s infrastructure. Just as in the physical world, better infrastructure leads to a better economy. Adhering to WCAG–the universal electronic building code–will bring more travelers to your road, and ultimately more conversions of travelers to faithful customers.