Think about when you go to the shops. Or visit a museum. Or stay in a hotel. Or go practically anywhere else. There’s almost always one thing you can count on: if there are stairs, there’s also a lift.
Of course there is. Providing alternative access for those with mobility issues is the ethical, moral, responsible, considerate, and compliant thing to do. We all know this. And we never question why a business or venue does it. We never say, ‘I don’t need to use the lift, so why is there one here?’.
But while we may not say that in the real world, that’s exactly what some businesses are saying in the digital world. They’re saying, ‘We don’t require accessible websites, so why should we build one?’.
Why do these ethical and moral considerations not always extend into the digital space? They should.
Everyone uses websites in a different way. You’ll interact with a site differently to how your friends and family do. But we’re rarely privy to the ins and outs of how other people behave online. We know what we do, and that becomes our baseline. For us, it becomes the standard. And so it’s natural that, when building a website, we’ll automatically think to build it in a way that works for us.
But what about those people that don’t use websites in the same way? Or those who can’t? It’s very easy to think that accessibility is only important to a very small group. And if it’s a group that doesn’t quite overlap with your target audience, it’s tempting to overlook its importance. But the truth is that accessibility is vital to more people than you may think.
Website accessibility isn’t just important for those with disabilities, who may struggle to read content online or listen to audio. It’s also important to those facing technical challenges, such as having a poor internet connection or slow devices. And to those facing situational challenges, such as being on a noisy train. Inaccessible websites can alienate a huge percentage of their visitors.
Unfortunately, around 70% of all websites have some sort of accessibility problem. So how does your website measure up? While you may think it’s performing OK, remember that a website doesn’t have to actively isolate and alienate to be considered unethical. A failure to provide inclusive digital spaces that offer meaningful experiences to everyone, regardless of their need, can be an ethical issue.
As a business, you have a duty of care to your users. You have a responsibility to act and behave in a way that’s fair and compliant; in a way that ensures every single visitor to your website can view the same content, access the same support, and enjoy the same online experiences. No matter what.
Ignoring accessibility? At best, it shows a lack of awareness. At worst, a disregard for ethics.
So what do you need to think about? Here are a few of the most important considerations:
How can users hear audio content if they’re using a device without sound? Or if they’re in a busy environment? Or if they have hearing loss? How can users with sight loss understand image-based content when using assistive technologies? When using any sort of non-text content, it’s important to offer an accessible alternative format, such as captions, transcriptions, or alt-text descriptions.
You may have an idea in mind about the perfect design for your website. But is it inclusive of everyone’s needs? Something as minor as colour contrast between the text and background can have a huge impact on accessibility. While it may look clear to you, a user with poor eyesight may struggle to identify links and buttons, which can have a negative effect on their ability to navigate the website.
Perhaps the most important ethical consideration when it comes to accessibility is clarity. Websites should be clear, both in how they’re structured, and how they communicate. Clear wording should be used, and, for businesses using technical terms and industry jargon, a glossary should be provided. Anchor text should make it clear where links direct to, and navigation should be logical.
While there are a few ethical considerations when it comes to accessibility, there are also ethical dilemmas that some businesses may experience. For example, you may need to choose between applying ‘accessibility fixes’ to your existing site, and starting over from scratch.
Accessibility fixes are, of course, the quickest solution. But they tend to be a bandage over a wound. From an ethical standpoint, building accessibility into the very foundations of a website is the best way to ensure long-term compliance and make accessibility a key component, not an afterthought.
Another ethical dilemma you may encounter relates to old content. For example, you may have a number of older downloadable reports, white papers, or PDFs. Is it better to drive resources into making this content accessible, or remove it despite it still bringing value to some of your users? There is often a discrepancy between what’s easiest for an organisation, and what’s most ethical.
In this post, we’ve talked a lot about accessibility and how it relates to ethical web design. But building accessible websites isn’t just about doing the right thing. It’s great for business, too.
The more people that can access your website, the better.
Let’s go back to the examples we gave at the very start of this post. Think about going to a shop, a museum, or a hotel, and not being able to get in because you’re unable to use the stairs. There’s no alternative. So what do you do? You probably go somewhere else. And you may well never return.
It’s the same when it comes to websites. If someone isn’t able to access the information on your site, they’re not going to stick around. And they’re unlikely to come back. So while you yourself may not need accessible websites, accessibility is something that no business today can afford to ignore.
Need more information on ethical or other website issues? Give us a call to discuss your needs further.