Taking a Look at Users of Accessible Websites
When I took a MOOC to learn HTML/CSS a while back, I remembered the instructor encouraged students to create accessible websites. I understood the premise behind it. By making accessible sites, I’d be able to reach a wider audience. Since not every user has access to a good computer with fast internet connection running the latest browser. It’s the same thing with parking at any given shopping area. There are a lot more normal parking spots than handicapped spots but they are there for a reason. People with disability can easily find the designated spots in a crowded parking lot.
However, what I wanted to discuss today is not about the benefits of making accessible websites. A five second Google search can easily give you the answers. But the results from the search tend to be either Why, such as better SEO or more visitors, or How, such as adding alt text to images. What this post is about is the Who. Who are the people that we create accessible websites for?
Blind and Visually Impaired Users
Let’s talk about the people that have the most trouble accessing websites, blind and visually impaired users. Websites, in general, tend to be very visual-oriented. When I create a website, I tend to focus a lot on the small details, such as the layout of the site or how the fonts and colors look. I want it to look exactly the way I wanted it to. However, a blind user doesn’t care about what shades of blue I spent a long time to decide on. The user just wants to be able to access the site.
Since they use assistive technology such as screen readers like JAWS, keyboard shortcuts are better for them to navigating websites. When I checked out the information for JAWS, I was appalled. The price for the software was $900. Upgrading the software to newer version also costs money too. The good thing is that there are free open source screen reader such as NVDA.
The Data for Blindness and Visual Impairment
To see how making accessible websites can help those users, let’s take a look at the data. The National Federation of the Blind regularly collected and published statistics on the numbers of blind and visually impaired people in the United States. It is estimated that as many as 10 million Americans are blind or visually impaired. That is about 3% of the U.S. population. That number is expected to double in the future as baby boomers age.
What is most significant is the fact that around 70% of blind adults are unemployed. For those that are working, the median annual household income is $39,700. With computer and technology skills already being an integral part of the American workforce, blind people are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to employment opportunities.
The Need to Create Accessible Websites
I feel that creating accessible websites should be a conversation in the development process. Blind users have to face the challenge of outdated, inaccessible website almost everyday. It’s good to support accessibility by following guidelines such as WCAG 2.0. But at the same time, getting direct feedback from users who face the most challenge accessing websites will go a long way toward accessibility. Actually sitting down with people with blindness and see how they use the website can address the problems they encounter and allow solutions to be developed quickly.