The democratising of digital technology
There are over 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss and according to statistics, over 65% of them own a computer or use a smartphone or tablet. In fact, visually impaired people are amongst the most digitally literate disability group in the UK. With the improvements in technology over the last few years, website accessibility has come to the masses. Visually impaired people no longer have to spend hundreds of pounds on specialist screen reading software, as IOS and Android platforms have built in accessibility out of the box. This gives all generations the ability and opportunity to use the internet. This democratising of digital technology means there is a potential market of visually impaired consumers who shop online. However, according to research, around 70% of websites fail to reach the agreed standards for accessibility. In real terms, this means that visual impaired consumers struggle to use websites, and therefore emigrate elsewhere to obtain their goods and services.
Social inclusion, more aspiration and less discrimination.
Many businesses and companies with an online presence may argue that they don’t have many visually impaired customers, or that very few visually impaired people apply for jobs in their sector or actively participate in their online forums, groups or chats. To claim this is lazy. The reason why visually impaired people may seem not to be interacting with a site, by either making online purchases, or engaging in other ways, such as applying for jobs, is that so many websites are inaccessible. This means that would-be visitors are driven away and forced to find other outlets. But what if all websites were totally accessible? Would this have an impact? – yes! If all websites were accessible to all, there would be greater social inclusion, more aspiration and ultimately less discrimination. More visually impaired people would engage and ultimately find employment. This may appear to be a bold claim, but it isn’t. With so much social interaction, e-commerce, networking and job hunting happening online, it is not a giant leap of faith to suggest that if visually impaired people were to enjoy the same freedom as their sighted counterparts, it would make a positive impact not just for the individual, not just for a specific website or business, but for society as a whole.
So, what does accessibility mean in real terms?
Well, according to guidelines, websites have to be able to be accessed by all, regardless of their level of disability. What this means to website builders is that special care must be used in the designing of their sites. Let’s briefly look at three common problems many websites suffer from and discuss the ways they can improve.
Colour and text
For a user with partial eyesight, the colour and text of a website is important. Websites with low contrast or ill-defined text means that some visually impaired users are unable to use the site. If the option of alternate font size, colour and contrasts is made available, this will enable more users to interact with the site.
For people who rely upon screen reading software to help them navigate web pages, unlabelled buttons are unhelpful and often make the difference between engaging with a site and leaving a website, never to return. Whilst the buttons may be labelled graphically, the screen reader often just sees an unlabelled button, which is incredibly unhelpful. With some thought, buttons can be labelled so that visually impaired users know what they are clicking on. This means that more users will visit the site, stay on the site, and ultimately increase traffic and buy goods or services.
Flash and graphics
Understandably, websites have to be visually appealing to the majority of visitors. However, websites with too many graphics and plug-ins such as flash, can make life very difficult for visually impaired visitors. If a simpler, scaled-down, non-graphical version of the site is made available, this would increase traffic and enhance usability.
Images and pictures
Many sites have pictures and images. Sometimes these are used to explain the tone or style, content or brief of a website in a quick and concise way. Images are also used to illustrate products, services or events. To a blind or visually impaired user, such images are useless. However, alternate text can easily be provided. The text can explain in a few carefully chosen words, what the image or picture is attempting to convey. For example:
“Graphic – A blonde woman sits on a wooden bench overlooking a vast, sandy beach.”
Websites are more than just information and text. To be inclusive, all visitors should have the opportunity to get a feel of the tone and colour of the site. Also, if a site is offering a show, performance, experience, trip or holiday, it is important to support the images with text, so everyone can conceptualise and understand what is on offer.
These are just four examples of how websites are inaccessible. If a website is fully accessible, it will attract more traffic and be more profitable. The vast majority of blind and visually impaired people use technology to do grocery shopping and general shopping, e-commerce and a multitude of other tasks. To not consider accessibility is to ignore the consumer’s needs and ultimately lose profit. By far the best way forward for anyone who designs or owns a website, is to consider a professional appraisal and report. This report will give you the information and guidance you need in order to make your sight useable and attractive to blind and visually impaired users. Visualise Training and Consultancy offers such a service. A service that will enable your site to be used by more people, a site that is accessible, modern, conformative and more profitable.
But what if websites continue to be inaccessible?
Well, the ramifications are severe, and potentially life-changing. Below are ten things a visually impaired person would not be able to do if website designers and builders didn’t think about accessibility.
As you can see, lack of accessibility has a very real and very serious cost to the user. In many cases it can be life changing and dramatic. But, with thought, consideration and compassion, your website can be a pleasure for everyone, sighted or not. So, to make your website accessible, visit
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