The bottom line: websites should be easy to use. A user-friendly and responsive website means going beyond fun graphics and intuitive navigation. This means every web page should be visually approachable for every kind of user across the spectrum of visual limitations.
Removing barriers for website accessibility
Perhaps most important to website accessibility is starting with a good baseline. The Bootstrap framework is the basis for Higher Logic’s user experiences. We adopted Bootstrap to ensure usability on mobile and touch devices. In doing so, we revisited every web page on the Higher Logic platform. We benefited from the work of others who previously adopted the Bootstrap framework and were more than happy to implement the best practices for accessibility that were available.
Of course there is no substitute for testing. We have partnered with a great organization – the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) – to make its website, along with all websites powered by Higher Logic, as accessible as possible. Different users use different assistive technology tools – readers, magnifiers and more specialized tools – based on individual needs. IAAP and its partners have facilitated broad testing across assistive platforms, which has proved invaluable.
Designing a website to be accessible
If accessibility isn’t a consideration, then the experience will suffer. The “basic stuff” is central to meeting accessibility needs: layout, text formatting, color choices and labeling. Having accessibility in mind helps you make better choices in general. An overly creative design might look like a modern masterpiece, but may result in users missing something you want them to experience or understand. For Higher Logic, accessibility is a consideration, and more than that, it’s a guiding principle.
Technology moves fast. Constant updating of code and user experiences is necessary to meet rapidly evolving standards and best practices for online content. The nature of web development is tearing down and building up in short intervals, so there are constant opportunities to make enhancements for accessibility. Of course, there are just as many opportunities for oversights. Higher Logic products reflect that we have accessibility in mind.
Changes in website accessibility over the last 20 years
Between 1995-1998 the web "read" more like books, and newsgroup threads were dominant. It was obvious 15 years ago the web allowed for entirely new experiences that had little in common with printed pages. Web technology rapidly improved and CSS made it easier to add depth stylistically. A lot of people went off the deep end with complex designs and limitless navigation choices. As sites found the traditional header/paragraph/picture offerings of basic HTML insufficient, the accessibility challenges grew. But that period of web experimentation gave way to the interactive web. The so-called “Web 2.0” collaborative experience made clarity and standardization of content presentation more important. More designers began to recognize where design equaled friction and toned it down.
Today the web is even more of an interactive and immersive experience. The development challenges for the mobile web are really similar to accessibility challenges. In the mobile era, everyone’s screen is one-twentieth the size. Mobile experiences are driving clarity and simplicity in web content to the benefit of those with accessibility needs. Higher Logic websites are natively responsive to the benefit of accessibility.
Now we are at a stage where interacting with others through web content across devices is standard. The accessibility challenge of today reflects our highest priority for all users – engagement. What is really important is not just reading the web content but interacting with its creators and building upon it – at your office, on your couch or in line at the supermarket. Diversity makes the online experience better. We want everyone to engage.