How Data Can Improve Your Website’s Accessibility
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Website accessibility is a key consideration for any business that hosts web content. Both internal (employee-facing) and external (customer-facing) sites must meet certain conditions to ensure everyone can access them with reasonable accommodations. The data provides a way to measure these conditions and ensure that your website is not only accessible but inclusive.
Indeed, data, both qualitative and quantitative, can highlight weaknesses in accessibility as well as opportunities for improvement. Users form an opinion about a site in 0.05 seconds, dictating whether they bounce or stay. Most of the reasons they leave center around accessibility features like mobile-friendliness or navigability, which you can track with data.
To improve your site’s accessibility, you need to understand the importance of these inclusive considerations.
The Importance of Website Accessibility
When you start applying data to improve web accessibility, the first step is to understand the importance of accessibility features. There is plenty of information available that details how critical open and inclusive platforms are to business success. But more than numbers, accessibility is essential from an ethical point of view.
Imagine living with a visual impairment if you don’t already. Trying to use a site with low contrast, lack of screen reader support, and messy navigation is a nightmare under these circumstances. You would probably look for other sites that are better optimized to meet your needs.
About 12 million adults over 40 in the United States living with some form of visual impairment. That’s a lot of users who can potentially be banned from using your platform, and that only takes into account visual impairments.
Meanwhile, 61 million American adults living with a disability. Accessibility features can help many of these people navigate digital platforms more easily. Another 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse, meaning that their minds have different ways of processing certain information and stimuli. Accessibility means removing any barriers to web usability that these demographics might encounter.
The data shows that many of us live in circumstances that may require some accommodation. But accessibility is for everyone. Because accessible practices are best practices, integrating them into your website is more of an opportunity than a burden. Then the data helps you track your accessibility success (or failure).
How Data Informs Accessibility
You can use data to inform accessibility on your website. All it takes is understanding the tools and metrics to use. Both free and paid software exist to help you find and fix problems. Meanwhile, aligning web design key performance indicators (KPIs) with accessibility features presents opportunities for improvement.
For example, IBM offers an open-source web accessibility checker that can scan an entire website and automatically put the resulting data into a spreadsheet. From there, website managers can evaluate a site’s successes and failures to improve usability. The nature of this data can be both qualitative and quantitative, illustrating the types of issues users may experience as well as the frequency of those issues.
Qualitative accessibility measures focus on the quality of the data being measured. These are data that indicate the effectiveness of your approach. The researchers determined that some of the most impactful measures to follow in terms of accessibility data quality include:
Measuring this data requires evaluating various accessibility test modules against each other, framing the search in terms of specific usage conditions (such as visual impairments), and then aligning the measurements by result.
Quantitative metrics, on the other hand, are meaningful data points by numbers. You can benchmark accessibility using this data using metrics such as the following:
- Number of images without alt text
- Number of Criteria Violations
- Number of possible accessibility failure points
- Severity of barriers to accessibility
- Time taken to complete a task
All of these data points form a larger picture of website accessibility, indicating potential pain points for your users. With this information, you can begin to understand where improvements can be made with actionable strategies for data implementation.
How to use data to improve website accessibility
With an understanding of how data can inform accessibility, it’s time to apply that data to improve accessibility. This involves framing your tracking data within the framework of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)which provides the latest standards to ensure web accessibility.
By measuring these accessibility measures, the UK’s National Health Service found that only 53% of its pages had a high rating for accessibility. The organization then redesigned its web platform to bring that number up to 98%. As a result, the number of daily users increased from 15,000 to 26,000.
You can make similar measurable progress in improving accessibility by using the following tips:
1. Assign KPIs to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG 2.1 focuses on five accessibility principles. These are perceptibility, operability, comprehensibility, robustness and conformance. Your KPIs for accessibility should be tied to these features. For example, measure compliance by the number of criteria violations that occur during on-site testing. This and similar metrics will help you identify areas for improvement.
2. Collect quantitative and qualitative data.
Your approach to collecting accessibility data should not be limited to one tool or one test procedure. Instead, diversify your data to ensure quality. Both quantitative and qualitative metrics are taken into account, including user feedback, number of reported issues, and information from all sorts of testing and validation procedures.
3. Run accessibility checks to improve and validate results.
The range of usability considerations is wider than most testers can accommodate in one go. That’s why there’s a range of tools and checks to help you spot problems. For example, neurodivergent people may need accommodations for testing and forms you might host on your website. Running checks for scenarios that affect your users helps you catch any issues. Testing platforms you can use to collect accessibility data include:
Explore these tools and more as you apply data to an improved accessibility approach. From there, you’ll have all the data you need to build a better site. Since a more inclusive program can help grow audiences and build brand reputation, your business shouldn’t overlook the power of data to complement accessibility.
Cultivating success through accessibility
Building an accessible and inclusive platform isn’t just the ethically right thing to do. This also has important implications for success. For example, the purchasing power of the global disability community equals approximately $13 trillion. A competitive stake 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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