Lifecos have work to do on their websites, Forrester’s study finds

Making your website accessible to people with visual, auditory, physical and learning disabilities makes good business sense, says Ragul Chari, director of digital marketing with Marketing and Communications Central in Toronto. Offering equal access to your site to people with disabilities allows you to reach a broader range of clients.

Website access for the disabled also satisfies the ultimate goal of the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee who is widely quoted as saying: “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Several governments around the world, including the Canadian federal and provincial governments, have made Berners-Lee’s vision possible by enacting legislation that mandates disabled website access. In most cases, that legislation does not apply to small businesses such as financial advisory practices with 50 or fewer employees.

For example, Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, introduced in 2005, mandates specific website access guidelines and penalties for not adhering to them for businesses with more than 50 employees.

Still, Chari recommends providing disability access, even if you are not required to. By doing so you will not only be reaching a larger number of prospects and clients but will also be generally perceived in a better light. As the World Health Organization points out: “Nearly everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in their life and those surviving to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning.”

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So, some of your current clients could very well benefit — now or in the future — from a website that is accessible to the disabled.

Here are some key requirements for making your website accessible:

> Multimedia content
If you’re posting content in an audio, video or image format, Chari says, you must have an alternative version in text.

“If you have an image, include descriptive text on what is in the image,” he says. This way, a screen reader can relay the content to those who are visually impaired.

In the case of videos, you should have closed captions for those who are hearing impaired and audio descriptions for the visually impaired. “Make sure you have ‘pause’ and ‘play’ functionality,” Chari says.

> Readability
As far as possible, use clear and simple language, Chari says. He recommends breaking up your text into well-structured blocks. Text must be of a legible size and users must have the ability to resize text, Chari says. This feature should also apply to disclaimers, which typically are in fine print.

Be sure tonal contrast between text and background is strong to enhance readability, Chari says, especially for readers who might be colour-blind or have difficulty differentiating colors.

> Keyboard accessibility
Users must be able to navigate your website using a keyboard, Chari says, in spite of other available options such as a mouse and touch-screen.

> Ease of navigation
Help users find and navigate content, Chari says, by labelling links clearly. You must have clear titles and headings and limit the use of pictures to help disabled users find the content they are looking for.

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