putting a key in lock
Website accessibility is key to opening up the web to those with disabilities but it's also key to just plain good business practices PHOTO: rachieray34

Is your CMS, website or app accessible to those with visual, hearing, cognitive or motor impairment? I didn't think so.

The good news? That particular shortcoming is widespread among online brands, so you’re not alone. But that’s also the bad news.

The Dire Need for Accessible Web Experiences

One in five Americans lives with a disability, which means that your target audience is almost certainly made up of people who are struggling in one way or another to access web content.

There shouldn’t be a need to delve into the ethical benefits of accessible web design. In an ideal world, the able-bodied would consider those with disabilities without thinking twice. But unfortunately, a quick glance at the internet today speaks volumes in the other direction.

So, to highlight the very real need for accessible web experiences, let’s try something practical.

The Web Wasn’t Built for Disabilities

Imagine having the rest of this article read aloud for you due to your poor eyesight. Would you find it easy to quickly identify the different sections of the article so you could skip to the most relevant segments? And how easy would it be for you to click on a link embedded within this article?

Here’s another example: Imagine landing on a web page, only to be greeted by an auto-playing video advertisement. Now, that’s an annoyance for anybody, but if you’re on the autism spectrum (like 3.5 million other Americans) you may be hypersensitive to audio. So there’s nothing abstract about the question this time, because staying on the page is simply too stressful for you. Leaving is your only option.

The point is, assistive technologies and alternative input methods aren’t enough because the world wide web as we know it wasn’t built for the disabled in mind.

That simply has to change.

Accessible Web Design Is Good Business

Let’s put ethics to one side for a moment. And let’s also ignore the fact that many governments and global bodies have legislation in place to enforce and encourage accessible web design — in their respective public sectors at least.

Instead, let’s talk about why making your website accessible is just good business.

Karen McGrane: 'Accessibility Matters for Everyone'

CMSWire spoke to user experience and content strategist, Karen McGrane, to find out why CMS vendors — and organizations in general — should start taking accessibility more seriously.

“Many companies seem to think that accessibility doesn’t matter because they don’t have a large enough population of disabled users. But accessibility matters for everyone,” she noted.

“Following accessibility best practices means that content will be more semantic and more flexible, which makes it easier to manage, store, and publish,” McGrane continued. “It should be enough to say that accessible design is just the right thing to do — but if it isn’t, there’s a strong business case to be made as well.”

Gauke Pieter Sietzema: 'There Is Much More to Do'

CMSWire also reached out to Gauke Pieter Sietzema, chairman of the advisory board for Dallas-based open source content management system, MODX, for his take:

“It’s a great thing that accessibility is finally getting the attention it deserves and needs, especially in recent years. There is one challenge though: a lot of CMSs have been engineered without keeping accessibility in mind, and much of it is JavaScript-dependent. Therefore, it’s hard [for existing CMS vendors] to find the balance. And unfortunately, most vendors prefer to work on new features rather than on accessibility,” he observed.

“What was done for MODX is, among other things, adding ARIA [Accessible Rich Internet Applications] roles for better navigation. But there is much more to do. As for CMSs being built from scratch, their teams should take advantage of the fact that it will be easier for them to implement accessibility features.”

JP DeVries: 'Google’s Search Bots Don’t Have Eyeballs'

JP DeVries, lead developer for rich text editor, Redactor, and founder of Netherlands-based web developer Modmore, also shared his insights with CMSWire:

“When my clients ask me this, I like to remind them that accessible design patterns improve your SEO score because Google’s search bots don’t have eyeballs. The more inclusive a page is to screen reader users, the better your SEO score will be.”

Taking Accessibility Mainstream

The world wide web is 28 years old (and possibly on the cusp of a revolution), but it still feels like we’re leaving members of the disabled internet community to fend for themselves.

To make accessible web design easier for organizations to implement, we need to see CMS and DXP vendors taking accessibility more seriously.

There are positive signs within the CMS world, but the flames of change are in dire need of fanning.

Posters and Practical Advice

Drupal holds regular events to discuss the issue, while eZ Systems recently hosted a webinar to highlight the cause. MODX has been on the scene since 2015 when it launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund accessibility features. The campaign actually sparked some controversy in the MODX community, as various members struggled to figure out the best way to assist disabled web users.

The UK Home Office is also pulling its weight, publishing a series of posters that give developers the guidelines they need to design accessible websites for those on the autism spectrum, those with low vision, those with motor disabilities, and so forth.

Karwai Pun: Avoid Confusing Language

Their interaction designer, Karwai Pun, was full of practical advice during a Responsive Web Design podcast episode.

“Good design is accessible design, so we need to factor everyone into our community. Our community is diverse, and we should embrace that,” she said.

She went on to provide tips such as “avoiding metaphors like raining cats and dogs” so as not to confuse web users who might take such phrases literally and miss a web page’s core message.

Why Not Hire the Disabled as Consultants?

As far as first steps go for CMS vendors looking to take accessibility more seriously, JP DeVries chimed in with some blunt but powerful advice:

“[How should CMS vendors begin?] They should hire disabled people for consulting. Invest in accessibility by putting it in the budget. Understand that there will be a return on this investment via an improved user experience for all users,” he said.

So, while we’re all looking forward to higher web browsing speeds and the emergence of an even more addictive social network, let’s also hope for a more accessible world wide web — so everybody can enjoy it.