Accessible websites: Reaching an audience not always considered

Image credit: MarketingLand.com
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Reader’s Note:  Since I am discussing the benefits of an accessible website, I will inform you up front that I don’t know whether the websites I run (this one, Right Winger, and Road Trips in a Hoodie) are accessible.  To avoid coming across hypocritically, I will be discussing benefits from a marketing perspective, but it is not my place to advise anyone on accessibility without knowing more about their business model.

In the year 2017, websites have become a requirement of small and large businesses.  When we want information, or we want to transact business, we open up a web browser most convenient for us, and we start searching, often beginning with a Google search.

For the average consumer, this is easy, but for others, it can be cumbersome due to existence of a disability.  I learned about this first-hand in a previous position where one of my duties was to maintain my department’s website.  Updating the content was self-explanatory, and I had a mission to drive more traffic to the site as a way to inspire independence of informing oneself of what our department offered.  Our volume of calls wasn’t overwhelming, but there were times when phones were tied up.

A few months after I took point in being the department’s webmaster, I learned that the website had to conform with the Adults with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Until I did research to learn what that entailed, I didn’t think much of it.  Since the institution received taxpayer dollars, compliance was mandatory.  In order to understand the changes I had to make to the website, I researched the web standards that were in effect in 2014, compared it with the institution’s style and branding guide (learning for the first time what one was), and sought advice from a colleague in marketing.

 

From a marketing perspective, among your target audience are those with disabilities.  The average person can navigate your website using a mobile device using their fingers, or their laptop using a keyboard and mouse, but there are those that cannot.  Everything from screen readers, voice commands, to software that modifies your display to make it easier to read, will affect how your customers interact

As I began to work on compliance for my department, I had to consider everything from the text I typed, to the characteristics of the images I used, to the appearance and formatting of links I used.  Fortunately for me, the institution had templates and back end processes that would conform anything I used to specification.  I also had to remind myself regularly that this site isn’t supposed to be flashy or cumbersome, but informational and easy to navigate.

 

From a visual and design standpoint, there are millions of websites that look like their last update was the late nineties.  A website can be informative, usable, and current, without being cumbersome on either the browser loading it, or the consumer who requires special tools to access it.  It’s common for a web designer to want to install flashy plugins, or use fancy displays on their website, but in the end, you have to ask yourself what the value of them are.   Some questions to ponder:

  • How much advertising is on your site, and what are the click-through and conversion rates on those ads?
  • When using signup forms, how frequently are you getting emails, and are they in locations unobtrusive to the reasonable consumer?
  • When using social media widgets (either for following or sharing), do they go beyond an image with a link?
  • Is your website using the most recent standards for design which may include formatting?
  • How easy is it for people to leave feedback for a site administrator?  On the same heading, what’s the turnaround time for feedback response?
  • Are there any elements of your site don’t play a role in making the customer experience effective?

Each of those questions applies regardless of how accessible your website is.  In the course of doing business, a business’ site should be audited regularly to ensure that data is accurate, and that its appearance reflects what the company approved.  Due to the fast-changing nature of the internet and how quickly a design trend can become a standard, I recommend doing a refresh every five years.  As a business is refreshing their website, teams should take that time to review the accessibility of the website as technologies change.  Legal departments should also be connected with marketing to ensure that any legal changes that affect your organization are communicated so that you stay in compliance.

In keeping with my opening note, a business has to know its audience and demographic in order to successfully conduct business and properly direct any campaigns.  Businesses also have to weigh the cost of accessibility beyond what’s legally required with ensuring that their current website is functional for those who don’t need the features.  As time goes on, and as a business grows, there’s no harm in putting together a proposal, or drafting a plan for accessibility, but don’t make it your primary focus.

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About the author

Mike Rana

Mike Rana is one of those people who is hard to define, though he's not immune to being labeled for something. He likes to talk about many topics including technology, business, politics, education, psychology, and human behavior. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, people watching, analyzing the world around him, writing about his life experiences, absorbing information from various social media channels, and trying to be the voice of reason in the political arena.