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Accessibility. A world within everyone’s reach

Accessibility. A world within everyone's reach

April 6, 2021

Elena Venieri

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web said: ‘The power of the Web is in its universality’. Since its beginning we have strived to make as much information as possible connectable. In a speech he presented at the W3C meeting, London, 1997/12/3, Tim Berners-Lee said:

“You should be able to make links to a hastily jotted crazy idea and to link to a beautifully produced work of art. You should be able to link to a very personal page and to something available to the whole planet.”

In all these years, the web has become a huge source of information accessible from all parts of the world, through our computers. As the devices we have available to access the web began to differentiate, we looked at the responsiveness of this information, so that it would be accessible from smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches, smartglasses… However, the universality of information on the World Wide Web is not yet so universal.

There are people who still have trouble making use of it. And the problem is not the infrastructure. The problem is that many websites contain information that is not accessible to those with some form of impairment.

Medical vector created by macrovector_official – www.freepik.com

Despite the fact that the World Wide Web Consortium has established its own guidelines for accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), it is true that very few websites follow them. They are no doubt very theoretical and not very practical, but the result is that there is a segment of people who find the doors closed in their faces when they try to access information.

Have you ever tried to get a screen reader to read a website? I recommend you try it. Chrome itself provides an extension with just this functionality.
First of all, the voice that reads the content of the website is a voice synthesis that tries to reproduce human intonation, but which is quite far from reality and is often speeded up so that you can enjoy the content in an acceptable time.
The screen reader reads all the textual content on the site, also highlighting the functionality of certain key elements of the page, such as buttons, navigation, images… But what happens if the texts do not have a well-structured hierarchy, lack headings or, worse still, are not consistent with the content? What if buttons and call to actions do not follow the right semantics? If images have not been described properly? The result is a chaos of words and content… at double speed!

Background photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

When we think about designing a simple and intuitive user experience, one of the most important steps is to define the target users our website is aimed at. Through personas we outline the salient characteristics of our users. And most of the time they are strangely always similar to us. This is one of the most frequent biases in a designer. We tend to design for people who belong to the same group as us.
People with some kind of disability are almost never taken into account. Visually impaired, deaf people, people with physical and/or cognitive disabilities, elderly people are never included in our personas. For the over 65s alone we are talking about 8.5% of the world’s population. And yet.

Section 508 of the US government lists 7 principles for universal design:

  • Fair use. design is useful and usable by people with different abilities.
  • Flexibility of use. Design adapts to a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and intuitive use. The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s level of knowledge, language skills or ability to concentrate.
  • Perceptible information. The design communicates the necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of the user’s environment or sensory abilities.
  • Error tolerance. The design minimizes the risks and negative consequences of accidental or unintentional actions.
  • Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimal physical effort.
  • Adequate size and space. Adequate size and space are provided for the approach, manipulation and use of the design regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

It is now time for accessibility to be an inclusive part of the design of a website or any information contained on the World Wide Web and, as Antonio Santos says:

“Accessibility is not a feature, it’s a social trend

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