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Website accessibility is an essential consideration for any business that hosts web content. Both internal (employee-facing) and external (customer-facing) websites should meet certain conditions to ensure that anyone with reasonable precautions can access them. Data provides a way to measure these conditions and ensure that your site is not only accessible, but inclusive.
This is because both qualitative and quantitative data can reveal accessibility weaknesses as well as opportunities for improvement. Users form an opinion about a website in 0.05 seconds and determine whether to leave or stay. Many of the reasons they leave revolve around accessibility features like mobile-friendliness or navigability, which you can track with data.
In order to improve the accessibility of your website, you need to understand the importance of these inclusive considerations.
The importance of website accessibility
When you begin to apply data to improve web accessibility, the first step is to understand the importance of accessibility features. There is a lot of information that shows how important open and inclusive platforms are for business success. But more than just the numbers, accessibility is essential from an ethical perspective.
Imagine living with a visual impairment if you haven’t already. Under these circumstances, trying to use a website with low contrast, lack of screen reader support, and messy navigation is a nightmare. You would no doubt look for other websites that are better optimized for your needs.
Approximately 12 million US adults over the age of 40 live with some form of visual impairment. That’s a lot of users who might be barred from using your platform, and that’s just referring to visual impairments.
There are now 61 million US adults living with a disability. Accessibility features can help many of these individuals navigate digital platforms more easily. Another 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse, meaning their minds process certain information and stimuli in different ways. Accessibility means removing any barriers to the usability of the Internet that these populations may encounter.
The data shows that many of us live with circumstances that call for certain precautions. But accessibility is for everyone. Because accessibility practices are best practices, incorporating them into your website is more of an opportunity than a burden. Then data will help you track your accessibility success (or failure).
How data affects accessibility
You can use data to inform the accessibility of your website. All you need is an understanding of the tools and metrics to use. There is both free and paid software to help you find and fix problems. In the meantime, aligning web design key performance indicators (KPIs) with accessibility features offers opportunities for improvement.
For example, IBM offers an open-source web accessibility tool that scans an entire website and automatically inserts the resulting data into a spreadsheet. From there, website managers can evaluate the successes and failures of a website to improve user experience. The nature of this data can be both qualitative and quantitative, illustrating the types of problems users might encounter and the frequency of those problems.
Qualitative accessibility metrics focus on the quality of the measured data. This is data that shows the effectiveness of your approach. The researchers found that some of the most telling metrics related to the quality of accessibility data are:
Measuring this data involves benchmarking different accessibility test modules against each other, determining research related to specific user conditions (e.g. visual impairments), and then aligning metrics accordingly.
Quantitative metrics, on the other hand, are data points that are meaningful through the numbers. You can use this data to assess accessibility using metrics such as:
- Number of images without alt text
- Number of criteria violations
- Number of possible failure points in accessibility
- Severity of accessibility barriers
- Time required to complete a task
All of these data points give a bigger picture of website accessibility and reveal potential pain points for your users. With this information, you can begin to understand where improvements can be made with actionable data implementation strategies.
Use of data to improve website accessibility
With an understanding of how data can impact accessibility, it’s time to use that data for accessibility improvements. To do this, you need to place your tracked data in the context of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide the latest standards for ensuring web accessibility.
By measuring these accessibility metrics, the UK’s National Health Service found that only 53% of its sites scored high accessibility. The organization then underwent an overhaul of its web platform to bring that number to 98%. As a result, the number of daily users shot up from 15,000 to 26,000.
The following tips can help you make similar measurable gains in accessibility improvements:
1. Map KPIs to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG 2.1 focuses on five accessibility principles. These are perceptibility, operability, understandability, robustness and conformity. Your accessibility KPIs should be tied to these features. For example, measure compliance based on the number of criteria violations encountered during site testing. These and similar metrics help you identify areas for improvement.
2. Collect both quantitative and qualitative data.
Your approach to collecting accessibility data shouldn’t be limited to one tool or test procedure. Instead, diversify your data to ensure quality. Both quantitative and qualitative metrics feed in, including user feedback, number of issues reported, and insights from all types of testing and validation processes.
3. Run accessibility checks to improve and validate the results.
The range of usability considerations is wider than most testers can accommodate at once. Because of this, there are a number of tools and checks that can help you spot problems. For example, neurodivergent individuals may need housing for tests and forms that you may host on your website. Running checks for scenarios affecting your users will help you spot any issues. Testing platforms that you can use to collect accessibility data include:
Explore these tools and more as you apply data for an improved accessibility approach. From here you have all the data you need to build a better website. Because a more inclusive program can help attract an audience and build a brand’s reputation, your organization shouldn’t neglect the power of data when adding accessibility.
Cultivating success through accessibility
Building an accessible and inclusive platform isn’t just ethical. It also carries important implications for success. For example, the purchasing power of the global community of people with disabilities is approximately $13 trillion. Competitive participation in this spend pool is just one of the many benefits that can come from accessible websites and business models.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer covering technology and business.
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