I recently asked Helen Baker to give us some advice about accessibility and the corporate website.
Helen provides a range of freelance web content services, with a focus on accessible, usable copy in plain English. She started out in technology PR for a global firm before moving on to the corporate communications team of FTSE 250 engineering company Balfour Beatty, and was responsible for http://www.balfourbeatty.com, when she was first introduced to the issues surrounding corporate websites. Find out more about her on www.concisecontent.co.uk.
Over to you, Helen:
Corporate websites and the case for accessibility
As more and more companies provide and actively encourage their stakeholders to access corporate information online, accessibility is becoming an even greater issue.
Accessible websites benefit everyone, both visitors and business. But research shows that many corporate websites are still failing to reach even minimum accessibility standards.
Accessibility is a legal requirement for many businesses
Service providers in the UK have been legally required to provide accessible websites and applications since 1999. According to the Disability Discrimination Act, businesses have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to make use of its services, including those provided online.
A website’s design should make sure all users can have full and equal access to both services and information. If not, they run the risk of being accused of discrimination against people with disabilities, followed by being sued and receiving a lot of negative publicity.
All visitors benefit from more accessible websites
However, an accessible website isn’t just for people with disabilities. All visitors benefit from more accessible websites, from faster loading times through to easier-to-read text.
Accessible websites also benefit visitors with changing abilities, such as age-related issues, or people accessing information using both older (dial-up internet) and newer (mobile handsets) technologies.
Corporate websites serve audiences with diverse needs
Corporate websites provide information ranging from shareholder resources through to job vacancies. Consider two typical, very different audiences that would benefit from a more accessible website:
- Retired employees: many older visitors suffer from age-related issues, such as poor vision and mobility difficulties (where using a mouse may be a problem). They also often use older equipment or browsers to access information.
- Institutional shareholders: analysts often need to access financial information quickly via, for example, mobile handsets and platforms. They might also be using a slower internet connection reliant on a good mobile signal.
Accessibility provides tangible business benefits
Organisations with corporate websites that meet minimum accessibility requirements experience a number of business benefits. For example, the website will have an greater audience reach, it will be ‘future proofed’ as technologies change and its content will be optimised for search engines.
A popular case study is Legal & General, which launched a new website in 2006. It saw a massive increase in conversion rates (people asking for quotes), its search engine rankings significantly improved and it experienced a 100 per cent return on investment (ROI) within just 6 months, among many other benefits.
Corporate websites need to do better
In March 2006, Nomensa conducted research that showed ‘almost 75 per cent of businesses in the FTSE 100 list of companies fail to meet the minimum requirements for website accessibility’, as set by the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Why are so many corporate websites failing on this front? There are a number of reasons, many of which may be practical but certainly aren’t an excuse. These range from under-resourcing through to a lack of in-house knowledge.
Some simple fixes for the short term
Convinced but not sure where to start in the short term? Try some of the following simple (but not necessarily quick) fixes. This is by no means a definitive list.
- Make sure your text is presented in short paragraphs, using plain English, lists and descriptive headings
- When you add the headings, make sure you use header tags and put them in the correct hierarchy
- Add and use appropriate alt text for all images, where applicable
- Check for good colour contrast between the text and the background
- Check that links are descriptive and easily distinguishable from other text (e.g. underlined and in a different colour)
- Ensure that body text is a reasonable default font size and can be increased by the reader
- Provide text transcripts for any video or podcasts.
The following websites also provide some good starting points and quick reference documents:
- WebAIM Quick Reference Web Accessibility Principles
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Quick Tips to Make Accessible Web Sites
Where to go for more information
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
- Guidance for service providers from the Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Guidance on making accessible websites from the RNIB’s Web Access Centre
- The business case for accessibility from AbilityNet
- Legal information on accessibility and usability from law firm Pinsent Masons
- Accessibility guidance from the Investor Relations (IR) Society
- PAS 78, a British Standards guide to good practice in commissioning accessible websites
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