My Thoughts on Website Accessibility

For this author, finding the balance between design and accessibility has been a struggle for more than a decade. Today we don’t have to sacrifice either.

Head shots of several people with disabilities, some of them are hidden disabilities.

Accessibility vs. Design

Honestly, for a long time, I was torn about making websites “ADA compliant”. As many of you know, I’ve been a wheelchair user my entire life. For me, the Internet was tremendously empowering and I was an early adopter, wired-in since 1991.

By the time Michael Rapino and I created Mediastead 2013, standards in web design conflicted with standards in accessibility. We were trying to build websites that looked beautiful on every device and every screen. The accessibility standards, however, guided us to minimize design so the end user could change browser settings to view websites.

It was almost a philosophical argument. How do we balance access with design?

Mediastead made the decision that we had to design for the 90% of the population that has no issues viewing websites on typical devices. After all, our customers, small and medium businesses were paying us for beautiful websites! Accessibility had to be an afterthought. We were aware of it, and we did make concessions where we could, but ultimately design prevailed.

True ADA Compliance is New

While website accessibility has been a discussion point since the early days of the web, being “compliant” didn’t have meaning until 2018.

According to AccessiBe, a thought leader in Internet accessibility, “In 2018, the DOJ clarified that websites are considered places of public accommodation and must comply with ADA Title III. In 2022, the DOJ reaffirmed it and recommended WCAG 2.1 AA as the best practice.”

Invisible disabilities shifted my thinking

If there is a stereotypical disabled person, it’s me. I go to the mall with an accessible van that takes up two parking spaces outlined in blue. I roll my power wheelchair up to the curb cut and press the button for the hydraulic door. Ramps circumvent every set of stairs as I shop. I never used an accessible dressing room or an accessible public toilet. They weren’t made for me.

On the web, it’s not the mobility impaired that are the target of accessibility activists. Videos seldom had closed captions for the hearing impaired. Most websites weren’t designed with screen readers for the blind in mind. The more than a dozen varieties of colorblindness were virtually ignored.

I sat in my office, in my wheelchair, oblivious to others with disabilities. I wasn’t completely unaware, but I didn’t advocate on their behalf.

I was wrong.

Not only had accessibility standards improved, but philosophically my heart was aching. The Mediastead team began to take active steps to incorporate universal accessibility within our designs.

The Accessibility Widget is a Game Changer

A swathe of developers created WordPress plug-ins and accessibility widgets. Frankly, most of them weren’t very good, but a half-dozen or so warranted our scrutiny.

Our development team chose AccessiBe. Its unique technology allows anyone to make adjustments to any website. A tiny bubble appears in the bottom corner allowing users to tweak dozens of combinations. Furthermore, the settings are saved across all websites that use the technology.

Our designs are completely unaffected. We still use many of the standards for website accessibility as we design, but we no longer have to choose between design and access.

For complete transparency…

Mediastead has chosen AccessiBe as our preferred provider for accessibility technology, and we have become a strategic partner through their Agency Partnership Program.  We earn a commission from every client who chooses to use AccessiBe. The partnership program allows us to charge fees for installation, etc., however, we have decided that all accessibility integrations will be free for all clients.

I know it sounds a bit like a sales pitch, but in truth, it’s a sigh of relief. After 10 years in business, I’ll never have to choose between doing the right thing for my customers and doing the right thing for their customers.

If you sign up for AccessiBe through this link, Mediastead will earn a small commission. If you are a Mediastead client already, we will provide set-up and installation at no charge. Even if your company is not a client, we will provide a free hour of consultation.

We truly want the Internet to be accessible, inclusive, and equitable.

About The Author

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