Designing accessible web pages is the right thing to do (but surprisingly, we all benefit.)

Posted by Christine Campbell on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 3:55 PM PST

People with disabilities are often excluded from the internet 

Even though both the internet and the Americans with Disabilities Act came about at the same time 30 years ago, developing web pages and apps with accessibility in mind have been an afterthought -- at best. People with visual, hearing, motor or cognitive disabilities are often left out or offered frustrating and exclusionary experiences on the web.  

Try listening to a screen reader to order clothes from a site that only uses photos  - no text -to describe them. Or watch an instructional Youtube video with the sound muted-- without subtitles. Or what if you wanted to order a Dominos’ pizza with the mobile app discount but couldn’t use the app. In this current and nationally famous case, a man with a visual impairment who was unable to order from Dominos mobile app was told to just call in his order -- but would not receive the online discount.   

According to Vox, "Disabled people are about half as likely to be online overall, are less likely to have high-speed internet, and are more likely to have only one device for accessing the internet.” 

Growth in ADA lawsuits may not benefit the users - subhead 

Sometimes companies realize they need to rework their websites, but other times they push back. Disability advocates have filed lawsuits, such as the current case against Dominos. Now some law firms seeking big payouts have been searching for organizations to sue about inaccessible websites, a move that concerns disability advocates because the lawyers reap the winnings. Additionally, they worry about the optics of so many lawsuits making it seem that people with disabilities are pushing for frivolous claims  

Whether it’s because it's the right thing to do, or because companies might get hit with a lawsuit, designing or adapting web pages for accessibility is a step all organizations with websites and mobile apps must take. This benefits not just people with disabilities, but everyone. Have you ever needed to use your phone with one hand? Or used dictation to send a text? Universal or inclusive design is actually good for all. 

Web development students at Seattle University learn universal design from Day 1  

Seattle University's mission is to create leaders for a more just and humane world. Maybe it’s no surprise then that students in the School of New and Continuing Studies Web Development Certificate program are instilled with the mindset of making the internet a fairer and more accessible place from the very beginning of their program. From the first assignment in building “Hello World” to more challenging web page builds, students are instructed in best practice for web accessibility, drawing from W3’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) international guidelines. For example, in their earliest assignments, 

  • students learn to add descriptions of images to HTML so screen readers can read them
  • they learn semantic HTML—the practice of coding headings with HTML in the structure rather than using design codes in CSS -- so that screen readers can understand what is a title and when a new section is starting 
  • they learn how to choose color combinations with a lot of contrast so that people with visual impairments can detect the text.  
  • And they learn to add subtitles to videos so that people with hearing impairments can “listen” to a news segment or enjoy a favorite show. 

It’s often challenging and costly to change web pages once they’ve been designed. Expert web developers say that the best thing to do is to build with accessibility in mind in the first place and that if the client isn’t thinking about it, it’s the job of the web developer to educate them on the reasons they will want the page to be accessible. Students graduating from SeattleUniversity's Web Development Certificate have the awareness and skills to bring this important principle to every project they work on.  

Universal design actually pushes the envelope on innovation

And the new crop of web developers will be in good company. Because the interesting thing is that when companies think expansively about the “what if’s” of inclusive or universal design, they actually develop breakthrough innovations.  

Apple is one such company. Whether it is font enlargers, screen reading, voice control or noise control for hearing aids, they put users first. Their website includes several remarkable videos of users living life fully and they display it in a beautiful, universal design way. In one, a paralyzed man maps out a ride on a bike trail, shares the plan with his bike-riding friend and rides with him there in his electric wheelchair, all through the use of his voice. In another, a woman with motor impairments is able to build and edit an inspirational movie, all controlled by typing commands by moving her head. The technology that allows these two people freedom to create and explore also allows the rest of us to be hands-free, sight free or sound free--tools we have all come to love. Universal design is also beautiful, as shown in these top 10 ADA compliant websites. It also makes good business sense. 

Getting started in designing for inclusivity 

Microsoft has a rich set of tools geared to helping people better understand user needs, build empathy and design for inclusivity. They created the following infographic to help developers and customers understand that we all want inclusive design since everyone already encounters accessibility issues whether they are situational, like driving; temporary like an arm injury, or permanent like deafness. 

Looking forward, web developers like those coming out of Seattle University’s Web Development Certificate program need to be the champions of accessible web pages. Employing web developers who have a disability is a great way to make sure the issue is always represented at the design table. In addition, Section 508, the US government guide to accessible design offers rules, checklists and practices like that can keep universal design top of mind:  

  • Designers and developers need to work together from the start of a project to align around accessibility objectives.  
  • To meet user needs, developers need to interview customers and create personas to understand their requirements.  
  • Developers should involve users throughout the project lifecycle to ensure any changes don’t adversely impact accessibility. 

Learn more about web accessibility by taking a look at Punchkick’s simple Beginner’s Guide to Designing for Accessibility And learn more about Seattle University’s web developers here.