Accessibility hasn't always been a high priority in the training of web managers, designers, developers and content creators. But things are moving in the right direction. Universal design, that is to say design which includes everyone is increasingly seen as the best design.

What is universal design and why is it important?

Universal design puts people first. It is design for everyone, not just for specific groups. It is flexible and enables users to interact in ways that work for them, with different devices and technologies. Apple's mobile devices are a great example of universal design, because their built-in speech recognition, text-to-speech, screen-reading and zoom enables people to use them in whatever way suits their context.

What is access technology?

It's extra hardware and/or software that a person (usually with a disability) needs to do a specific task. Examples are:

  • Screenreaders: software that reads the text on the screen to a blind person
  • Sip and puff switches: hardware and software that enables a user with no hand control to move and click a mouse using their mouth.
  • Mind mapping: software that helps a user with dyslexia to visually organise ideas, task lists etc.

What are the most popular access technologies?

here are just a few:

  • JAWS - the most popular screenreader especially among blind people in employment
  • NVDA - an excellent free sccreenreader that may overtake JAWS at some point
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking - enables people to talk to a computer rather than use a mouse or keyboard

How should my website be tested?

Ideally you should test your site using a mix of "real" users with disabilities, and expert evaluators like us. You can certainly do some initial testing yourself using automated tools and access technologies, but these are complex beasts and you shouldn't rely on the results unless you're an expert user of each tool you test with. User testing and expert evaluation is the only way to guarantee accessibility.

What access technologies should I use to test the accessibility of my website?

You could do some initial testing with some or all of the above, plus the free speech input and output and zoom features that come boxed with Apple products. But you'll first need to spend some time learning not only how these technologies work, but how disable people tend to interact with them, as this will heavily influence whether you're testing in the right way and getting typical results.

What are companies' obligations under the Equality Act 2010?

This Act, which became law in 2011, notes that “the duty to make reasonable adjustments requires service providers to take positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers for reasonable adjustments.”

Find out more about website accessibility and the Equality Act 2010 (external link)

How will accessibility help my business?

Don't under-estimate the spending power of disabled people. Can you afford to miss out on a market share of an estimated £80 billion per year?
You'll be protected against being sued on the grounds of poor accessibility
Accessibility makes a real difference to people's lives. Imagine, for example, being unable to move any part of your body except for your eyes, and still being able to do your own shopping and banking; or being blind but still able, using an accessible website, to read your bank statement or those personal medical results you need to keep private

How do inaccessible websites exclude people?

Some real-life examples we've seen are:

  • A man with Cerebral Palsy who can't use his hands and instructs his computer using speech input. His bank upgraded their website, and suddenly he was no longer able to do his own banking
  • A blind mum with three small kids used a specific supermarket for her online shopping because their website was accessible. Again, they changed the site's look and feel, after which it couldn't be accessed using a screenreader, so she now has to rely on neighbours to do her shopping.