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The Case For Accessibility As Standard Practice

Accessible Website Image

The decision to build a new website has been made. You’ve made your branding and style decisions, everyone is happy with design and layout choices. So the only thing left is to have the site built by a developer, right? Actually, there is one additional consideration, and that is how people might interact with your site aside from using a standard full-featured web browser.


Web accessibility has traditionally been defined as an approach that allows those with disabilities to use the web. This can include anything from sight and hearing impediments to movement limitations. However, because more and more users are relying on non-traditional interfaces to view and consume your content, that should be broadened to include how people use the web.


When determining what accessibility features your users need and how they might be used, personas along with a test matrix can be a helpful way to conceptualize your accessibility needs.

Personas have been used to guide the user interface design process by helping imagine how different users might use your site. Example personas for a university website would be:

  • Student
  • Prospective student
  • Parent of a prospective student
  • Faculty member
  • Administration

A typical persona would involve summarizing the characteristics, needs, motivations and environment for these different types of user. To take accessibility into account, let’s make sure to include that relevant information:

Sally Student is in her second year at State U. She accesses the site to sign up for her classes and check her schedule, access her university email, and access uploaded teacher content. She typically connects to email and instructor provided content on her mobile device. Sally has a form of arthritis that makes fine motor skills difficult; as a result she relies on voice commands and large buttons on her mobile device, and voice and keyboard commands when on her laptop.

Professor Shorthair is a tenured professor. He needs to access the university’s website to check his schedule and roster, view his benefits, access email and manage his class’ online content. He accesses the site using the computer in his office or his tablet when he’s at home. He is also getting up in age and is slightly hard of hearing and is beginning to experience vision problems. Glasses and hearing aides make up the difference for the most part, but he still needs to zoom in on web pages to make text legible. Occasionally he’ll use a screen reader with headphones to give his eyes a break.

From these two examples we can see that usage is extremely varied, and needs to be taken into account so that these two types of users have full access to State U’s site. By taking into consideration several different personas we can try to account for all usage behaviors so that everyone with temporary or permanent disabilities – from the blind faculty administrator to the prospective student with a broken arm – has access to our site’s content.

If you’re still not convinced, the Word Web Consortium has a terrific list of accessibility resources demonstrating the benefits of an accessible website in terms of increased traffic, better search results and ROI, as well as possible negative outcomes resulting from creating an inaccessible website.

About Matt Shoaf, Interaction Development Director
Matt uses his unique experiences as a jazz saxophonist, adapting the free-flowing collaboration needed there to keep an eye on the big picture of his front-end code, resulting in optimized websites and applications that work harmoniously across multiple devices and platforms.