Q: What pitfalls can our business avoid when trying to make our digital content accessible for people with disabilities?
A: Serious consideration of user accessibility for people with disabilities goes back a couple of decades, with the Web Accessibility Initiative beginning its work in the late ’90s. The most commonly supported disabilities are hearing and vision impairment, and even after 20 years, some businesses still miss the mark.
Being accessible begins with simple things, like coding the web programming language known as HTML with semantically meaningful names for images and links to someone using a reader program to engage with content.
According to Dave Meyer, president of BizzyWeb, a Minneapolis marketing agency, “It’s important to meet any web user where they are, regardless of limitations.”
As a national speaker and trainer for Google, Meyer points out that half of all website visits come via mobile devices, and not being “mobile friendly” means your digital content will not be ranked in search.
Meyer notes that many web visitors leverage reader apps on mobile devices. “Pitfalls arise from things that those without impairment forget to consider.” He suggests that transitioning images, animations and other visual “eye candy” can cause site slowdowns or other technical issues, beyond presenting content that can’t be consumed by everyone.
Another aspect stems from overemphasis on search engine optimization (SEO) in naming links. In addition to avoiding nonlanguage strings of characters, using long SEO-driven phrases can also be a distraction for those using reader programs.
For the hearing impaired, there seems to be a push to offer more closed captioning. According to Meyer, “YouTube, for instance, offers a relatively easy-to-use captioning tool, so firms can take advantage of the current video renaissance without leaving some audiences out.”
Meyer warns that regardless of what impairments you attempt to address, to drive the best business results, thorough review and testing of captioning or how assistive tools present your content is worth the time and energy to assure a positive user experience.
Mike Porter is the faculty director of the MS in Health Care Communication at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.
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