If you can cast your mind back to the early days of the internet, it’s likely you will remember websites that were incredibly hard to read. We’re talking about the ones with tiny, narrow fonts displayed in colors that clash with the background, and packed with poorly spaced information. (Just check out these delicious examples for some context.)
The problem with those old websites, as well as the ones that are poorly designed today is they are confusing and inaccessible for everyone that views them disabled or not. Although, there is a difference in the severity of these barriers to access. For example, those of us that are differently abled may not be able to access the information or services that a website provides at all. While abled-bodied people are more likely to experience them in terms of annoyance. This phenomenon is known as digital ableism, and its subject, along with how inclusive website design can help fight it, is in the post below.
Defining Digital Ableism
Digital ableism is the situation that occurs when digital technologies are developed with people without impairments that include auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual types, in mind. It means that those with impairments are left to deal with the consequences of not being able to access this technology or adapting their behavior in order to access them. In essence, digital ableism excludes those with impairments from the digital landscape and is still a big problem that many face.
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Why Digital Accessibility Is the Right Choice
There are three main reasons why choosing digital accessibility through inclusive website design is important – inclusivity, the law, your website, or your company’s reputation.
First of all, digital accessibility is vital for inclusivity and equality, which is a moral responsibility that all businesses operating in society share. Secondly, there is a legal reason to make sure any website you produce is inclusive as covered by The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.
Lastly, your company’s reputation is at risk if you do not work towards digital accessibility. This is because consumers are much more savvy on social issues, and will vote with their purchases if your actions do not line up with their values.
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Nipping Digital Ableism In The Bud
One way of minimizing digital ableism when you create your website is to make sure there are people with disabilities and impairments working on your design and QA team. Indeed, many problems with digital ableism can be nipped in the bud this way because they will either be designed out of the process or caught early enough to be dealt with before you publish your site.
Fighting Digital Ableism By Creating An Inclusive Website
In addition to the advice above there are also some specific strategies that you can use to make sure that your website design is inclusive. The next section will go through these in detail.
Use High Contrast
One way you can help fight digital ableism and make sure your website is accessible by all is to consider contrast sensitivity issues. Many people with visual impairments struggle to clearly make out text when the contrast between the font and the background is not strong enough, for example, light gray text on a medium gray background.
However, by making the contrast between the text and the background higher, think black text on a white background, or black text on a yellow background it can be much easier to make out.
Make Sure Your URLs Are Descriptive
For those using screen readers, URLs that are descriptive can help them better understand where they are navigating to and from. This is because your URL can provide signposts for navigation, and make finding the content that is needed much faster and easier.
A good example of this is instead of using a URL like www.mycompany.com/contact, using www.mycompany.com/contact-us is better as it provides more contextual information for screen readers to access.
Choose Softer Colors
For neurodivergent individuals including the many of us that experience autism, using softer colors in website design can be helpful. This is because it prevents overstimulation which means that those with neurodivergence can concentrate on the information presented to them more clearly and for longer. In turn, boosts accessibility and helps to prevent burnout.
For those with cognitive disabilities, cluttered websites can be a real pain to access. Instead, it’s best to opt for a clean, and uniform look, with plenty of white space. Keep information on each screen to a minimum too as this can help enhance comprehension and understanding.
Skip The Tables
For those without impairments including tables to show information and in particular comparisons on a website is a no-brainer. However, once again those reliant on screen reading technology can struggle here. This is because screen readers can work out how wide and tall a table is, but they can find reading the information it contains in the right order a challenge, which can make them almost incomprehensible for anyone with visual impairments.
Ensure Video Content Is Accessible
Video and multimedia content like podcasts are hugely popular right now, mainly because they increase the engagement of website visitors. However, there are plenty of users to which such content can present an accessibility issue.
In particular, those that are deaf, or visually impaired can struggle with multi-media content unless provision for accessibility has been made. For the hard of hearing this means using text audio descriptions of visuals and videos. For those that are visually impaired audio descriptions of the visual aspects of the media work well.
Consider Using Chatbots
Another way to fight digital ableism with website design is to use chatbots on your site. Indeed, using a chat for website function can have a range of accessibility uses. One of the most vital is that it allows users that are hard of hearing to ask questions without having to call the company or organization in question.
Be Careful With Time-Based Media
For users with physical disabilities, sites that use timed-based media can be problematic. For instance, they may time out before the user has been able to consume them, causing them to miss vital information.
With that in mind, using an alternative that allows users to access the info in text form rather than via audio or video can be helpful. Alternatively providing users with the chance to turn off the time limits to this type of media mead they can digest them in there at their own pace.
Be Mindful Of Seizure-Causing Content
For those with some forms of epilepsy, as well as other seizure disorders, wearing the wrong type of content can trigger an attack. What this means is it’s vital that you do not include elements in your website site design that flash more than three times a second.
Indeed, for TV, films, and computer games that flash more than three times a second, you will see warnings for anyone that could be affected to look away. However, as this is not common practice online the best thing to do is to avoid such elements altogether.
Full Keyboard Functionality
When surfing the web, most able-bodied users use a mouse to navigate a website. However, those with physical disabilities may not be able to operate a standard mouse. What this means is a website only accessible via a mouse is one that is not accessible to those with physical disabilities at all.
To that end, it’s crucial that you design your website to be just as easily navigated with the keyboard, as it is the mouse.
Accessibility Is Good For Everybody
Last of all, before we go onto our financial thoughts about fighting digital ability, it’s also useful to note that making sure any website that you design is accessible is good for all. Yes, that’s right while it’s crucial to make sure that websites are accessible for those with impairments, accessibility strategies are good for all users, essentially because they are concerned with how users interact with the site, and finding ways that match their needs the best. It really is a win-win situation.
Also, be sure that you don’t fall into the category of people that think they don’t need to worry about accessibility because you are not targeting a disabled audience. Indeed, studies show that at least 25% of all Americans are dealing with a disability so that means unless you want to alienate up to 25% of your audience, making your site accessible is crucial.
In conclusion, digital ableism is an insidious issue that around a quarter of website users encounter on a regular basis. Those that are victims of digital ableism are not just inconvenienced but denied access to important services and information.
To fight digital ability it is important to consider people of all abilities when designing websites. This can mean including differently abled and neurodiverse people in the design process, as well as using the specific tactics discussed above to make sure your site is inclusive to all.