How data can improve your website’s accessibility

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Website accessibility is an essential consideration for any business that hosts web content. Both internal (employee-facing) and external (customer-facing) sites should meet certain conditions to guarantee that anyone can access them with reasonable accommodation. Data provides a way to measure these conditions and ensure your website is not only accessible but inclusive. 

That’s because data, both qualitative and quantitative, can highlight accessibility pain points as well as opportunities for improvement. Users form an opinion about a site in 0.05 seconds, dictating whether they bounce off or stay. Many of the reasons they leave center around accessibility features like mobile-friendliness or navigability, which you can track with data. 

To elevate your site’s accessibility, you need to understand the importance of these inclusive considerations.

The importance of website accessibility

As 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 just how crucial open and inclusive platforms are to business success. But more than just the numbers, accessibility is essential from an ethical standpoint. 

Imagine living with a visual impairment if you don’t already. Trying to use a site with low contrast, a lack of screen reader support, and messy navigation is a nightmare in these circumstances. You’d no doubt seek out other sites that are better optimized to meet your needs. 

Approximately 12 million adults over 40 in the U.S. live with some form of visual impairment. That’s a lot of users who may potentially be barred from using your platform, and that’s only considering visual impairments. 

Meanwhile, 61 million U.S. adults live with a disability. Accessibility features can help many of these individuals navigate digital platforms with greater ease. Another 15%-20% of the population is neurodiverse, meaning their minds have different ways of processing certain information and stimuli. Accessibility means eliminating any barriers to web usability these demographics might experience. 

The data demonstrates that many of us live with circumstances that may require certain accommodations. But accessibility is for everyone. Because accessible practices are best practices, incorporating them into your website is more of an opportunity than a burden. Then, data helps you track your success (or lack of it) when it comes to accessibility. 

How data informs accessibility

You can use data to inform accessibility across your website. All it takes is understanding the tools and metrics to use. Both free and paid software exists to help you find and fix issues. 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 tool capable of scanning an entire website and automatically putting the resulting data into a spreadsheet. From there, website managers can evaluate the successes and failures of a site to enhance usability. The nature of this data can be both qualitative and quantitative, illustrating the kinds of issues users might encounter as well as the frequency of these problems.

Qualitative accessibility metrics focus on the quality of the data being measured. This is data that indicates the effectiveness of your approach. Researchers determined that some of the most impactful metrics to track in terms of accessibility data quality include:

  • Validity
  • Reliability
  • Accuracy
  • Sensitivity
  • Complexity 

Measuring this data requires assessing various accessibility testing modules against one another, framing research in terms of specific user conditions (like visual impairments), and then aligning metrics accordingly. 

Quantitative metrics, on the other hand, are data points that are meaningful by the numbers. You can benchmark accessibility through this data using such metrics as the following:

  • Number of pictures without alt text
  • Number of criteria violations
  • Number of possible accessibility failure points
  • Severity of accessibility barriers
  • Time taken to conduct a task

All these data points make up 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 towards accessibility improvements. This entails framing your tracked data in the context of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provides the latest standards for ensuring web accessibility.

By measuring these accessibility metrics, the UK’s National Health Service discovered that only 53% of its pages rated high for accessibility. The organization then underwent an overhaul of its web platform to bring that number up to 98%. As a result, the number of daily users shot up from 15,000 to 26,000. 

You can make similar measurable strides in improving accessibility using the following tips:

1. Assign KPIs to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG 2.1 focuses on five accessibility principles. These are perceivability, operability, understandability, robustness, and conformance. Your KPIs for accessibility should be tied to these features. For example, measure conformance through the number of criteria violations that occur through site testing. This and similar metrics will help you identify areas of improvement. 

2. Gather both quantitative and qualitative data.

Your approach to gathering accessibility data should not be limited to one tool or testing procedure. Instead, diversify your data to ensure quality. Both quantitative and qualitative metrics factor in, including user feedback, numbers of flagged issues, and insights from all kinds of tests and validation procedures. 

3. Run accessibility checks to improve and validate results.

The gamut of usability considerations is broader than most testers can accommodate in one go. That’s why a range of tools and checks exist to help you catch problems. For instance, neurodivergent individuals may need accommodations for testing and forms that you might host on your website. Running checks for scenarios that affect your users helps you catch all problems. Testing platforms you can use to gather accessibility data include:

Explore these and more tools as you apply data to an improved accessibility approach. From here, you’ll have all the data you need to build a better site. Since a more inclusive program can be instrumental in growing an audience and building brand reputation, your business should not neglect the power of data in supplementing accessibility. 

Cultivating success through accessibility

Building an accessible and inclusive platform is not just the right thing to do ethically. It also carries important success implications. For instance, the spending power of the global community of people living with disabilities equates to around $13 trillion. A competitive stake in this spending pool is just one of the many benefits that can result from accessible websites and business models. 

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer covering tech and business.

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