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Attending the ProgressNEXT 2019 Global User Conference has been a great experience, filled with technical experts and Sitefinity hacks. But on day two, I was able to spend some time listening to speakers who emphasized not only the technical elements but the human elements of what we do.

Three cludo team members stand in front of a pool at night after the conference, with palm trees in the background
The author, Zachary Velcoff, with Cludo team members Jennifer and Ellie.

In the tech sector we talk a lot about “the latest trends in digital.” As thought leaders push to define and redefine the movements of the industry, pioneering (or trying to pioneer) concepts like Content Enablement, what’s often left out of the conversation is the focus on the end user, the visitor, the human being on the other end of your website. That’s what I wanted to focus on during my second day at ProgressNEXT 2019.

Helping Everyone Find What They’re Looking For

My favorite moment of the day was attending a session called “Coding Accessibility: Best Practices from the Front Lines” by Bekah Rice, UX Designer and Developer at Truematter. According to Rice, one billion people on this planet have a non-situational disability. In America, it’s roughly 15% of the population—40 million people, representing nearly $500 billion in purchasing power.

And those 40 million people? They want your products and services as much as everyone else does. But all too often inaccessible design makes it impossible for them to purchase, use, and enjoy the products and services they need.

Bekah Rice speaking in front of an audience listening to her presentation
Bekah Rice laying down the law about web accessibility.

Rice explained that there are many dos and don’ts to making your website WCAG 2.1 compliant, but they really boil down to four core principles. This was one of the most tactical portions of the presentation, where Rice laid out that an accessible website must be:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

Perceivable

Perceivable design means that your visitors should be able to consume your content regardless of whether they’re blind, colorblind, low vision, deaf, etc. It means you should be providing captions for videos, alt text for images, and enough color contrast between the background and the elements on your pages.

Operable

This means that your users can navigate your site regardless of the device they use. It means your sessions don’t time out too quickly, your tabable content doesn’t snare the user in a keyboard trap, and your alerts and modals receive focus when they open—and can be closed with a screen reader. The operable and perceivable principles are the most common ones users think of when they work on web accessibility, but the next two in this list are equally important.

Understandable

Here is what feels like a basic question (but is actually really important) – is your website understandable? This principle means that the people who come to your site know what’s going on as they navigate it. Do you give them enough time to fill out forms, label your form controls clearly and concisely, and confirm the success or failure of form submissions in a way that users with cognitive or perceptive disabilities can understand? If not, it’s time to take another look at your site.

Robust

Robustness means that your site is built to last. It’s built for—and tested upon—the broadest possible range of platforms. You run accessibility checks via automated checkers, you do manual accessibility testing yourself, and you incorporate actual people with a variety of disabilities into your beta testing process.

Why Accessibility Matters in 2019

Sadly, most computer science degrees and coding bootcamps don’t teach accessible software development (I know mine didn’t). As long as accessibility remains an afterthought, organizations open themselves up to loss of income, bad reputations, and—increasingly—legal and financial consequences. Accessibility standards continue to become encoded into law, allowing users who are prevented from getting the products and services they need to actively seek legal recourse.

If you don’t think accessibility is the next trend in digital, maybe this number will convince you: since 2017 there have been over two thousand active lawsuits filed over ADA noncompliance in the tech sector.

If you’re looking to audit your own website’s accessibility to prevent lost revenue, avoid costly litigation, or just to be more inclusive, several tools are available for your service. I use the axe accessibility checker for Chromeand the Siteimprove Accessibility Checker almost daily, and I can’t recommend manual testing with an NVDA screen reader highly enough!

And for those of you looking for accessible site search, there’s good news! Cludo’s global templates have been updated to meet WCAG 2.1 accessibility standards. We understand the importance of your site search being accessible. After all, it’s our job to help people—all people—find what they’re looking for. Get a free demo today.