Why We Build Accessible Websites for Clients
An accessible, W3C standards based website design can be a right pain in the proverbial to develop and maintain, let me tell you. A lot of uncredited work goes in to ensure the interoperability of a client site. It’s a pain for our developers because accessibility takes time and experience to master. It can be a pain for clients, as more often than not (for smaller website design agencies, at least) it increases the amount of time required to design, develop and launch a new website, and unless the client is committed to maintaining the accessibility of the site, most clients who go on to manage the site eventually screw up their sites a bit, adding images without ALT text, for example.
But we still do it…why? Well, why it’s because of the benefits!
Hang on a minute…what is the W3C?
- W3C Stands for the World Wide Web Consortium
- W3C was created in October 1994
- W3C was created by Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web)
- W3C is organized as a Member Organization
- W3C is working to Standardize the Web
- W3C creates and maintains WWW Standards. These guidelines are the closest you can get to official usability standards.
- W3C Standards are called W3C Recommendations
- 2 of these W3C standards are CSS & (X)HTML (and how to use them properly
- You can “validate” websites by running them through online W3C web tools – FREE
What Is (X)HTML & CSS?
If you don’t know what HTML and CSS is, it’s basically the technology used to create most websites. Sure, some websites have flashy gimmicks etc, but underneath it all, many websites out there are built using these use these two “languages” or “technologies”.
HTML is the structure and content of your website, and CSS is used to control the design and layout of a website in browsers like FireFox and Internet Explorer.
W3C HTML / CSS Validation is simply running the page through an automatic test to check the page for errors in either of the two technologies. Basically, to see if a website uses these languages properly. Either a pages passes validation, or it does not. When it fails to validate, a web designer needs to make small modifications to his or her website design code to bring it into compliance with the recommended for the use of these two languages.
What Is “Web Accessibility”
An accessible website is simply a website, build to W3C standards, accessible by, not just disabled people, but almost everybody, using various technologies. The problem is, with every change and edit, you risk making the website inaccessible, if sloppy code is left invalid. It’s worth noting a website is never as accessible as it can be. It can always be improved – and that’s what we strive for. We try and design websites to basic good practice standards, and then try to improve them further, throughout the lifetime of the website.
What A Client Cares About
A client is usually only concerned with the look and text and image content of the site, but increasingly nowadays a client should be made aware that websites should be accessible and that search engines should be able to read the pages so they can appear in Google results pages, for instance.
So many web design agencies in the UK focus on delivering the look and feel of the site, and often ignore validation and accessibility testing, to the detriment of the client. Some design companies only get the designs looking correct in the client’s browser, and then forget about it.
What Should Happen
While building a website, the designs and code should be periodically tested to ensure the HTML and CSS validate to W3C standards. Then, the website should be at the very minimum passed through other online accessibility checkers, like Watchfire, to ensure there are no obvious barriers to disabled visitors to your site. To take accessibility that step further, you should then carry out manual checks on your site, and then even ask a person with a disability to give your site a test drive.
“Making a site accessible benefits all of your users, and broadens your current audience.” W3C.
Make no mistake about it. It is illegal to discriminate against disabled persons in the UK. At some point some company somewhere in the UK will receive a lot of bad publicity about the inaccessibility of their website. Ensuring your website validates to W3C recommendations is a first step to ensure your website meets current and expected legislation in the UK.
It’s ethical….do you really want to leave people out of the enjoyment of your website and corporate message?
It generally means more visitors to your website can actually see your site the way you intended. Sites built to W3C standards generally look similar across most modern browsers (but unfortunately, not always!).
It also usually means you can update the look of a site a lot easier and more cost effectively, especially if a site is built using CSS to completely control the design and layout of the site, and your text is separate. This can be called separation of design from content, or style from substance! Not to mention most sites built this download a lot faster than those built with TABLES as opposed to laid out with CSS. That is because your style sheet (the CSS) is accessed only once, saving bandwidth, as opposed to loaded every time, if the style is embedded on every HTML page.
It also usually means search engines wont have any problems interfacing with your site, now or in the near future. You see, the thinking is, if you’ve no errors on the page, search engine spiders won’t choke on your site. All though there is no quantitative proof building a site to W3C standards will help it rank better in Google, for instance, it certainly wont harm your website in the search engine results pages! In fact, many search engine optimisation agencies think W3C compliant sites could rank higher in the search engines than sites that don’t conform to these standards.
It also means more people can access your website… even those with assistive software and hardware like screen-readers and Braille devices…and that means sales for you, you idiot!;) – There are over 8 million people in the UK alone with a registered disability of some kind.
That’s why at Hobo SEO Scotland, we, and a few other website design companies in Scotland, aim to build accessible websites for clients! It might mean longer development time. It might be a painful process sometimes. And we don’t get much thanks for it.
But we like to think clients undoubtedly eventually benefit from essentially building their websites “properly”, whether as part of our seo or web design services. More visibility. More visitors. More sales.
And website designers benefit too! When you learn about accessibility, invariably you learn how to use web technologies properly and ever better.
Need we say more?