That everyone should be able to access a website seems like a common truth. However, this is often not the case. And in the case of governments, I have learned that Web accessibility should be a number one priority. Here I share with you why this is key and what are its benefits.
Dear reader, are you wearing prescription glasses when reading this post? If not, do you know someone who would need glasses to read this post?
Now imagine for a second that you or that person loses their glasses. Would they be able to read this post easily? Probably not. the letters may be blurry or too small. See the next example for more clarity.
Example: Two views of a website, from a woman who needs glasses to read
On the left, the homepage of https://www.contentstrategy.at/ as seen by a woman who is wearing her glasses to read. On the right, is how she would see the website without glasses.
Now consider that without glasses, they will probably have difficulties applying for social benefits online, something that could be regarded as crucial in Covid-19 times.
This example shows that everyone who creates, designs, or develops websites should ensure that everyone can access them, regardless of their physical condition. And in the case of governmental websites, I have learned this is even more crucial for three main reasons:
- Helping people with disabilities gives equal access to informational resources.
- Allows gaining search engine visibility.
- Helps to comply with legal and international requirements.
Let me elaborate on these ideas.
Web Accessibility benefits everyone
In its pure concept, Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them, as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) defines it.
This entails, for example, that if your website contains video and audio, it is vital for people who are deaf to offer transcripts, subtitles, captions, and sign language.
But these technologies will not only benefit people with hearing problems. It will also make it easier for someone who can listen but is watching the video in a loud place like a train or plane and, therefore, cannot hear the audio.
By implementing tools to facilitate access for people with disabilities, you are also increasing the chances of reaching most citizens.
Web accessibility can help content to be easily found
If the content on a governmental website is presented in a clear and accessible way, it increases the chances of its content ranking high on a Google search. This is important, given that when people look for governmental information or help, they mostly do so by searching on Google.
The fact that the content of accessible websites can be found more easily than non-accessible websites is not related to Google itself, as Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller clearly said so in March 2022.
There are other reasons that the US Bureau of Internet Accessibility explains. Search engine robots can interpret accessible websites more accurately because of two reasons:
- Well-written content organized in chunks, lists, and clear headlines naturally uses relevant keywords, which helps search engines determine the page’s purpose.
- When site improvements accommodate assistive technologies (such as screen readers), they also accommodate search engines.
Here is an example of how it works. Implementing text description to images, known as “alt text,” provides information for people who have visual impairments. But, at the same time, it helps Google understand what the picture is about.
Therefore, Google could retrieve the image information when someone “googles” for that content.
Web accessibility is a legal and human right
A third reason governmental websites should be accessible is that international and local regulations ensure it exists. Web accessibility is a human right, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And in more than 20 countries, it is required by law (check the legislations in this list of the Web Accessibility Initiative, WAI).
One of those countries is the US. And a recent legal case from it shows how critical it can be for governmental websites to be accessible.
The story goes as follows. The public transportation provider for the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, Mass Transit District (MTD), redesigned its website. A citizen with a visual impairment alleged to the Justice Department that the new version “limited their ability to plan trips online and consequently limited their ability to travel independently.”
The Justice Department resolved in favor of the person’s complaint. A settlement agreement published in December 2021 stated that the MTD had to change its website and mobile applications to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. In addition, MTD was required to invest a minimum of US $100,000 to improve its services for passengers with disabilities.
For countries where Web accessibility is not yet required by law, cases like this should raise a warning.
Web accessibility is critical for governments to connect with their citizens, and for citizens to access the web.
So, if you work on governmental websites, I invite you to check and improve your website. The official Web Accessibility guidelines can help you.