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April 3rd, 2019

Accessible Web Design at P'unk Ave

Joanna Hecht
Partnerships Coordinator

Accessibility on the web means designing, building, and editing websites and applications in a way that makes content perceivable and enjoyable for users, regardless of ability. That means that people who experience disability or use assistive technology (like screen readers and text-to-speech input devices) can navigate a website.

The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide internationally-recognized standards to web designers, developers, and content creators on how to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities, and offer three levels of conformance. The most commonly referenced is WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA. 

As a studio, we've been putting our energy behind building web products that meet WCAG 2.0 AA success criteria. We're motivated to contribute to an internet that is accessible to everyone, not just people without disabilities. Read on for more about why and how.

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Disability is more common than you might think.

There are many types of physical and cognitive disabilities that influence users’ ability to navigate the web. Right here in Philadelphia, sixteen percent of residents experience some form of disability. Considering their experience in the design and development of your website means creating a more inclusive product that’s available to everyone. This is especially important if your intended audience includes people living below the poverty line or elderly people, two groups more likely to experience disability than the population at large.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

The kinds of considerations that fall under the umbrella of accessibility have the added benefit of making an experience easier and more enjoyable for everyone who uses the web. As the folks at Yale summarize it in their Usability & Web Accessibility resources, “everyone benefits from clear instructions, opportunities to correct form errors, simple visual layouts, high color contrast, and the option to read a transcript or captions to a video or audio recording.”

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Plus, there could be legal implications.

First of all, we’re not lawyers! As practitioners who are passionate about this issue, though, we’ve been noticing an uptick in court cases around the issue, with defendants ranging from Beyonce to Domino’s.

The lawsuits largely center around the question of whether websites are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal civil rights law that protects access to places of “public accommodation” for individuals with disabilities. In the Domino’s case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the pizza chain’s website is included as part of the ADA’s requirement to supply “auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.”

For some federal or state-funded programs, WCAG 2.0 AA compliance is required under certain sections of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other state and federal laws. We recommend that clients who receive government funding check with their legal teams to determine if this applies to them.

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So what are we doing about it?

With WCAG 2.0 AA Success Criteria in mind, we have adopted a variety of internal processes through the strategy, design, and development stages of a project to incorporate these guidelines into our workflow. These range from verifying sufficient color contrast in visual designs to implementing command line tools that ensure our code is up to snuff. We have an internal working group representing our studio’s practice areas to facilitate communication internally and with our clients about design, engineering, and testing of accessible web products.

We’re diligent about raising accessibility in early conversations with clients to ensure they’re aware of the standards they may be held to. As additional services, we offer more layers of testing to add confidence around conformance, as well as training to help clients maintain an accessible website or application after handoff.

The best part about this studio-wide collaboration around accessibility is how it’s brought issues of inclusion and access to the forefront of our offline practices. We check in with clients and stakeholders about accommodating people with disabilities in our interviews and workshops. We’ve put portable ramps in our pre-ADA studio space to make visiting possible for someone in a wheelchair. Frequent communication around accommodating diverse needs has allowed us to adapt workshop exercises to make sure everyone is able to participate.

We’re continuously refining our practices with the goal of making accessibility a priority in every project we undertake. We love partnering with organizations that share this goal. Get in touch to talk about how we can partner and together create beautiful, enjoyable web experiences--for everyone.

Joanna Hecht
Partnerships Coordinator