Sometimes it takes a sudden spike in bounce rates to illustrate a problem with the accessibility and usability of a website.
The increased demand for website accessibility revealed how many businesses were unprepared.
When people around the world were ordered to stay home, their dependence on the web for basic necessities increased.
Many websites and apps were unprepared to handle the increased load or demands for their services and products.
The more interesting development from the crush was discovering how inaccessible websites are.
Suddenly more people were walking in the shoes of those who already knew from personal experience.
For example, many people suddenly found themselves crash course learning Zoom to join employee meetings or helping patients and customers by appointment.
Zoom does not provide closed captioning for video webinars with the free version.
People with poor vision and deaf users have to pay a fee for captions, which is discrimination.
This was quickly called out by the accessibility community. Closed captions should be available at no extra charge to users.
Blunders like this one provide insight into where human biases and inexperience affect digital product development.
Closed captions help all sorts of people understand audio, especially if speakers have an accent or mumble.
The words on the screen help viewers stay focused and less distracted.
In some use cases, audio must be turned off so as not to annoy someone nearby. Closed captioning allows people to follow along quietly.
Bounce rates are a signal that there are barriers to task completion.
The missing piece during the design and development phases is user testing with people in their normal environment using the computer devices they rely on.
There are no accessibility automated tools capable of providing the test feedback required to meet all the requirements for building an online business, app, or website.
However, newer accessibility testing software in beta stages are becoming smarter, which will be helpful in the future.
For the present, the pressure to improve website accessibility is urgent.
“While the coronavirus and court closures may have temporarily slowed the trend of digital accessibility lawsuits, increased online use during the pandemic make for a ripe accessibility lawsuit atmosphere. Indeed, COVID-19 related digital accessibility lawsuits are already beginning to emerge.” – Amihai Miron, CEO User1st
Planning the Details
If your website data is like reading a mystery thriller novel with unpredictable characters leaving bounce rates and poor conversions with no clues to follow, you are not alone.
According to the World Health Organization, 2.2 billion people are visually impaired.
In a study published by Diamond, of the top 100 websites ranked by Alexa in February 2020 a whopping 98.1% of home pages had at least one detectable WCAG 2 failure and 97.8% on interior pages.
Overall, an average of 60.9 errors were detected per home page and 53 errors on average were found on interior pages.
These are the top 100 ranked websites. Are you wondering where your website stands?
Understanding what your online visitors are doing, plus how, where, and why they are doing it is as fun as figuring out how to traverse a corn maze.
There is no avoiding the details if you want to make improvements and certainly if building from scratch.
Without a plan, your developers are unguided.
Creating user personas is not always an effective method for understanding your target market because large segments of people with unique behaviors are left out.
It is too easy to create composite users.
The result is learning what is missed after a website or app is released to the public.
Regardless of whether you work for a global corporation or a small business, success is directly traceable to planning, procedures, guidelines, dedication to excellence, and a desire to explore new opportunities.
Look at all bounce rates, (not just super high ones), low conversions, and web site abandonment.
Keep testing forms, do user testing within your target market, and learn how to use at least one screen reader. Safari Voice Over is free on a Mac.
Several studies on accessibility indicate a decline in meeting WCAG guidelines by websites.
In addition to declining revenue, as more countries enforce their digital accessibility laws, an accessibility lawsuit is a real concern.
- Is there any target market user behavior you have not planned for?
- What other design ideas can you try?
- What actionable steps can you take now to make immediate improvements to the usability and accessibility of your website?
I hope to inspire you to think outside your comfort zone because for millions of website users, discomfort is what they have come to expect from our websites.
The Inaccessible Website Wake-up Call
A red alert sounded with COVID-19 and the stay-at-home response by governments around the world.
Employees, teachers, students, and the general public forced to stay home and use the web for basic survival needs like going to work or buying food quickly realized they could do neither painlessly.
Businesses sent their employees home without considering their home setups.
Staff without high-speed internet or newer computers are struggling to efficiently do their jobs.
Students and parents faced with online lessons, homework, and correspondence with teachers felt the brunt of badly built educational websites.
In the U.S. alone, 13,600 public school districts care for 7.5 million students with special needs.
Closing the schools created enormous hurdles for online accessibility for these students.
The shocking discovery was the sheer number of websites that are neither accessible nor user-friendly.
They are not designed for people in distress, who may have disabilities, or special needs (whether permanent or temporary), and those who depend on assistive computer devices to use the web at all.
None of this is news to the accessibility community who have been designing, testing, developing, training, and advocating for inclusion for years.
Deque published the results of a recent survey among the accessibility community and found that 83% of all respondents said that, “COVID-19 has raised the profile and importance of digital channels for their organization.”
Before this, it was the threat of an ADA accessibility lawsuit that raised concern.
The CDC released interesting data, too.
A new CDC study estimates that autism affects roughly 5.4 million people in the U.S. aged 18 and older. This would be a prevalence of 2.21% of U.S. adults, or roughly 1 in 45.
Website survival in today’s global economy depends on a willingness to invest in understanding and designing for new challenges.
Agencies providing digital services such as website design, software development, or online marketing need procedures and planning that adapt to frequent changes in technology and guidelines.
- Implement organized in-house development procedures.
- Educate all staff, from salespersons to designers, on the basics of building accessible and usable websites.
- Encourage cross-training and skill-sharing among your IT people.
- Hire remote employees.
If the long-term goal is to put a business on the web, it has to prove it will work for everyone wishing to interact with it.
Discoveries begin in-house.
Invest in In-House Skills & Procedures
Developers build better products when they are given the time and resources to properly understand what they are asked to design.
They need continuous education and training to keep up with the required skills.
Provide them with access to user behavior research, computers, mobile devices, operating systems, browsers and the freedom to include these with their planning, test plans, user testing, and long-term maintenance.
Each generation of people uses the web differently.
This is critically important if you are building apps that target different age groups.
Break up your development and designers into teams and let the senior level mentor junior level.
Then, reverse that to give the junior level staff the opportunity to introduce fresh ideas to seasoned staff who may be stuck using the same procedures.
A common mistake is making assumptions about who will use your website or app.
For example, it is assumed that everyone has a mobile phone.
It is assumed everyone has the latest operating system, browser, and fast internet.
It is assumed that everyone can see, hear, has a computer mouse, and recalls content.
It may be assumed that all CMS themes and plugins work properly and are designed to meet current design W3C and WCAG requirements.
Study User Behavior
There is simply no way your company can develop and market digital products without an intimate knowledge about who will use them.
Bounce rates alert you that someone could not or did not finish a task.
Planning from the Start
At the first hint that a new website, software, or mobile app is on deck, gather and document every detail and track it.
- Gather up requirements, from business to digital to goals and target market. Prioritize it all and write a requirements document.
- Develop the methodologies for testing and validation of those requirements.
- Plan to change your plans. Web design guidelines change. Businesses change. Companies change.
- Follow all updates to WCAG to be sure you have the latest accessibility guidelines.
- Design for specific situations such as changing ADA laws in various countries, physical environments, emotional stress, or unexpected distractions.
- Research user interface design patterns for mobile, desktop, and laptops. Do not choose any design that is a fad, does not fit with your business requirements, or does not fit your personal brand.
- Develop a QA process.
- When is it implemented?
- How are issues tracked?
- Who keeps your processes updated?
- Is there regression testing?
- How does data influence design decisions?
Overlooked Accessibility and Usability
Here are less commonly implemented best practices for accessibility and usability.
- Links must be discernable to screen readers and visual users. Screen readers announce links, and then read the link text.
- Putting the brand name first in the title on every page makes it difficult to distinguish between pages when looking at them in a set of tabs. For screen reader users the brand is repeated to them each time they visit a new page and since the tab can only contain so much text, the purpose of the page is cut off.
- All PDFs must be accessible. That includes reading order, alt text, and tables. Use Adobe’s Accessibility tool or Common Look to remediate.
- Indicate whether a link opens in a new window or tab by using either text instruction (e.g., “opens in a new window”) or a 16 x 16 icon with equivalent Alt text.
- Always differentiate between a link and text.
- For “Read More” links in blog posts, add the article title using an aria-label.
<p> <a href="/website-accessibility-law/285199/” aria-label="Read more about Website Accessibility & the Law: Why Your Website Must Be Compliant"> Read more... </a> <p>
- Don’t allow alternative text for an image link to be a repetition of the adjacent link text. If the image is not linked, the link text is sufficient. Use the empty alt attribute instead for the image.
- Redundant links on a page are a hazard for screen readers and visual users.
- Avoid using the same link text for links going to different destinations. Distinguish them by link text or WAI-ARIA labels (‘aria-labelledby’ or ‘aria-label’) to make it clear that they lead to different destinations.
- Skipped heading levels are common errors. Follow the proper order for header tags.
Open Your Doors
Accessibility testing is sometimes ignored because people say it is too hard to learn.
Ignoring WCAG and Section 508 guidelines can result in a website or app that is not only difficult to learn but impossible to use.
Countless millions of people need for us to be encouraged to learn how to build accessible, usable, and inclusive websites and apps.
Companies are encouraged to hire people with the passion to learn, even if their skills are not perfect or they lack certification in accessibility.
Employers need to examine hiring practices that exclude:
- Persons with disabilities or minor human impairments such as poor eyesight that requires correction.
- Persons who rely on assistive devices like screen readers to do the work.
- Persons who are older.
These are the people able to help developers because they know what it is like to be excluded.
Here are additional resources to help you now.
- IT Accessibility Checklist and Tutorial
- Section 508 Accessibility Testing for Websites and Software
- Creating Accessible Menus and Mega Menus
- Google Guide to Accessible Content
- Captions, Transcripts, and Audio Descriptions
- Readability Testing Tool
- Common Look PDF Accessibility Tool
- WordPress Accessibility Handbook
- The Web AIM Million