Accessibility means access. It refers to the ability of all human beings, regardless of disability or special needs, to access, use and benefit from everything within the environment that surrounds them.
It is common to confuse Accessibility with Availability, and even with Usability. These are 3 complementary areas that extrapolate the digital environment; they have brief overlaps of principles, recommendations, and methodologies.
In a digital environment, Accessibility specifically explores two concerns: 1) how electronic documents can be accessed and understood by any user, and 2) how web developers enable websites to function with helper devices used by people with disabilities or restrictions. Within these two main concerns, we focus on four of the major problems of access to information:
- Hearing problems: How audio content can be represented graphically (for example, including video captions)
- Vision problems: How a screen reader interprets the elements on a page (for example, title tags for links and alt tags for images); Including special audio for video content
- Cognitive problems: The complexity of sentences and paragraphs or vocabulary; The choice of fonts and text size; The availability of spell checkers and word prediction; The option to have the text read aloud;
- Locomotion problems: The ease with which someone can navigate a website or page (for example, tabulation); Forms autofill.
Why is Web Accessibility important?
In a digital environment, Web Accessibility democratizes access to information. It’s essential that the Web is accessible in such a way as to provide equal access and equal opportunities for any person, regardless of disabilities or technological restrictions. The more accessible your site, the greater your audience, or users who can amplify your message. Whenever we create a website or content with accessibility in mind, we improve reach, save time, energy and money.
How is Web Accessibility related to SEO?
The goal of Web Accessibility is to make web content accessible to as many people as possible, including those who attempt to access such content under technical, physical or cognitive restrictions. If we think of search engines as users with a high level of constraints, we can easily do a parallel with users facing a similar level of difficulty.
Search engines are pieces of software; robots that have a considerable level of limitations on access to information, whether for security or privacy reasons as well as technological limitations. For example, a conventional search engine cannot describe what’s inside an image (so, alt text is recommended). Looking at some of the recommendations in Accessibility, we can see common goals with SEO: Access to information.
Provide text elements that complement non-textual elements
Illustrating another example, anchors in textual links are important since they contribute, even if succinctly, to the definition of the content of the target page. Thus, in cases where more complex menus are used (like image maps, dynamic menus, etc.), it’s important to have parallel textual links. This helps robots and people with disabilities or Technological restrictions to understand link references.
The page should be accessible and usable, even without scripts
These are just a few examples for the most common cases. In addition, search engines include accessibility recommendations in the Quality Guidelines.
Web accessibility is a big help in SEO
The goal of a webdesigner should be to create accessible and relevant pages for users, regardless of platform or technological limitations. If this contributes to an improvement of the site in the eyes of the search engines, it’s a bonus.
For those who are interested in exploring the area of Web Accessibility, I recommend reading the documentation: