Web Accessibility

What comes to mind when you think of a disability?  For many of us, the image of a disabled person parking placard with a wheelchair comes to mind.  In reality, disabilities cover more than a person with an externally obvious physical impairment.  Hearing loss, disorders of fine motor skills and colorblindness are all examples of conditions that are not obvious when you meet someone on the street.  These affect the way people interact with the world, and many everyday objects are made so that everyone can use them normally.  This is also true of the web.

Accessibility is the design of products, services or environments for people with disabilities.  As of the last United States census in 2010, it is estimated that 56.6 million people in the country have some form of disability.  This means that accessible products and services are critical to nearly 1 in 5 people in this country.  Wheelchair ramps, closed captioning, glasses and even the positioning of traffic lights are examples of objects and services that provide an accessible environment.  

As everyday life becomes increasingly intertwined with the web, it is also increasingly important that accessibility is extended to services provided online.  Everyone uses the internet, and not just via the traditional keyboard/mouse/monitor setup either.  Our phones, televisions and even refrigerators feature internet connectivity.

We, the developers of services on the internet, cannot ignore any segment of the population.  Case in point: I had a colleague who had adopted the iPhone years before I did, and he just happens to be blind.  Not your traditional target audience, but one that exists, and one that we must acknowledge.  Developing for the greatest audience should be done altruistically in the name of equal access, but many of us work for corporations, so company revenue is also a consideration.  Therefore, we must recognize the potential spending power of a population that is easily in 9 figures or more across the globe.  

Developing for web accessibility has been facilitated by the standards organizations that have developed HTML5 and the browser vendors that have implemented those standards.  Modern semantic markup have accessibility features built into them, and writing code with accessibility in mind takes little or no extra effort if the code is structured well and your content placed correctly. 

In addition to impacting your company’s bottom line, a good faith effort to be accessible also ensures that you are in line with the law.  A well known accessibility lawsuit was brought against Target Corporation several years ago, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement on behalf of the plaintiffs.  Money lost to legal fees and damages would have been much better spent on development expenses to add accessibility, which would have resulted in additional sales.

At Bigcommerce, we recognize the impact that an accessible site has on our customer, the merchants, as well as their customers.  We are taking concrete steps towards building a more accessible site at multiple steps in the development cycle.  Design proposals are reviewed so that visuals meet at least WCAG AA requirements.  During development, engineers are encouraged to use alternate methods of navigation (keyboard only, screen readers) during testing, and code is reviewed so that markup is semantic and code provides enough data for these alternate experiences.  Finally, our quality engineers will test for accessibility concerns, and ensure that the final product can be used by an expanded audience.

As these software improvements are made, we can partner with merchants who have accessibility needs, and they in turn can sell to customers who do not access the internet in a traditional way.  The audience is expanded, and everyone wins.