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The world has never been more socially aware than it is today; in recent years the world and our society has taken important steps to becoming a more accepting and inclusive one. However, there is still aspects of day to day life that are living in the past and one of them is the Web. While this may seem disputable due to the fact that new technology puts the Web in the driving seat of development, it has limited accessibility which is making it outdated. The Web has benefitted a large majority but certainly not everyone – and not for a lack of trying.
In order to initiate and encourage the necessary changes, the Web content accessibility guides (WCAG) where put together in 2008, consisting of recommendations that will make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. According to the W3C web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities, and additionally older people with changing abilities due to aging1. These guides have a played a major role in raising awareness to the limitations of websites, the impact of the guides has been worldwide – seeing them translated into over 20 languages.
The guides successfully highlighted the need for websites to improve their design and function in order to become more accessible, preventing the exclusion of people with disabilities. Improving accessibility can be something as basic as decluttering your layout, which may seem simple but the process behind requires a lot of effort; deciding what gets priority and how to relay the same amount of information through a lot less. The result not only helps people with disabilities to navigate your site a lot better but also looks better, helping your business to appeal to a wider audience.
The Web has changed drastically since the guidelines were created in 2008; for instance, touchscreen technology used to be a fantasy concept and now is the norm for smartphones, this has led to challenges making content that conforms to WCAG 20 accessible on those devices2. The ever increasing presence of the Web means that increasing accessibility is more crucial than before, guidelines are essential to help mediate the complex technology into being viable for all, as currently many sites and tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for some people to use them3.
The Web is full of opportunities, and has become an essential part of education, daily routine and culture – accessibility for all should be a priority. With the level of sophistication seen in technology nowadays, it would be expected that there is the ability develop websites that are accessible to anyone. Yet, surprisingly web accessibility remains fairly low down on the to-do list (if even at all) for businesses and web designers, which not only limits the audience but the web potential. Changing a website to be more accessible provides many benefits for all parties.
The WCAG are in desperate need of an update in order to stay relevant to the technology of the present (and future), as the current guidelines are not applicable to the level of tech seen on the web today. An update is in the works; the WCAG are working towards a possible WCAG 2.1, in which the guidelines will not be changing but necessary updates and additions will be provided. However, if the proposed update goes ahead it will not be ready until 2018.
There is plenty of time till 2018 and the Web needn’t sit idly by till then. Making your website more accessible has many business benefits, and within practices’ such as mobile and website design it simply cannot be overlooked. There is plenty of evidence to prove that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits3. The case for web accessibility in business is full of social, technical, and legal benefits – and would be ignorant to ignore them. You wouldn’t exclude potential customers in person, so why do it online?