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Does an accessible site really cater for a minority?

Fri 25 Jun 2010

These days everyone is talking about the latest “hot” topics in relation to the web: usability, social media, mobile etc and it seems that accessibility is often being relegated to an after-thought. We mustn’t forget that it is still a topic that matters and with new technologies being introduced all the time, it is vital that we don’t forget it is our responsibility to allow all users access to a site and its’ content.

User analysis and testing often relies on defining personas and working out how the majority of users will access your content but does that mean users of assistive technologies (such as screen readers), which are surely going to be in the minority, should be ignored? In fact, is the number of people that would benefit from an accessible site actually that much of a minority?

Talking numbers
There is such a wide spectrum of what would be classed as a disability and with varying scales within that, it’s difficult to consider this as a single user group. To give an idea of just some of the numbers involved, there are:

  • 8.6 million registered disabled people (14% of the population)
  • 1 in 12 men (and 1 in 200 women) have some form of colour blindness (9% of the population)
  • 2 million people with some form of sight problem (4% of the population)
  • 6 million dyslexic people (10% of the population)

colourblind

Figures from Webcredible

This is just a sample of the demographic but even from these figures we can see that this is an audience we cannot afford to ignore.

What about everyone else?
When it comes to accessibility though, for me it’s not just users classed as disabled we should be considering. Have you tried using a mouse when your wrist is in plaster? Or using a laptop with a touchpad on a crowded train during your daily commute? Even suffering from tiredness can impact how easily we can read text on a page. These and similar scenarios can affect us all, impacting our mobility, vision and cognitive abilities (even if only temporarily). This can make using an inaccessible site at best a minor annoyance but one that would denote a bad user experience making us disinclined to return to the site in the future.

And the audience is growing
Finally, there is another group not classed as disabled but that can also face problems online. This is the 12 million people aged 60 or over (20% the population), an audience that continues to grow significantly (and let’s face it we’re all hoping to be part of this user group in the future). Campaigns such as “Silver Surfers’ Day”, which this year held a record number of events (over 1500) across the UK, offer older people an introduction to using a computer and getting online. This is surely a majority group that warrants our consideration.

So what should we be doing?
There’s a lot to consider when building an accessible site but as a starting point, we should remember that accessibility issues are wide reaching and don’t just affect disabled users; an accessible site will be one that’s available to everyone, regardless of ability. Start with well formatted documents that separate content from presentation and keep any enhanced interfaces unobtrusive. Always give users a choice as to how they access the content on your site and you’re going in the right direction.

Julie East

Julie East

Senior Designer

As one of the senior designers at Redweb my role is to ensure that the work we deliver conforms to current web standards whilst demonstrating a high level of design and creativity. Say ‘Accessibility’ and people look to me!

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