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  • Writer's pictureUna Huang

Accessibility for the Web

Una Huang, Outreach Fellow, explains the importance of web and document accessibility.

Think about what you do in your day-to-day life- how much of that work involves a computer, a mobile device, or the internet? Communications such as email, messaging, and social media, various services such as banking, and even health appointments, schooling, and work meetings are now conducted over the internet. With the rapid transition to working from home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people have come to rely on technology and the internet more than ever. However, this shift to providing online alternatives to in-person services has also been more difficult for those with visual impairments to access vital services, such as booking vaccine appointments online when they were initially rolled out.

Vaccine appointment websites aren’t the only inaccessible instances on the web. A survey of one million home pages of the most frequently used websites showed that 97.4% of them had detectable issues with accessibility-- most commonly with low-contrast text, missing alt-text, and missing form input labels. Some of these issues, such as missing alt-text and form input labels, make the website harder (or even impossible) for screen readers to read aloud to the user, while other issues like low-contrast text make sighted reading more challenging, particularly for those with color blindness or low vision.

Considering accessibility for audio and visual disabilities is one facet of accessible web design—disabilities involving fine motor coordination (and therefore mouse/trackpad use) is another element. Well-designed, accessible websites can also be interacted with through the keyboard. For example, space bar usually scrolls down a page, tab tends to cycle through selecting a web page's links and form fields, while pressing enter while selecting a link with tab or within a form field often simulates a click on that link or submitting the filled-out form.

Additionally, disability is not necessarily a fixed state—it can be temporary (e.g., having a broken arm or wrist) or situational (such as needing video captions in a loud area or higher contrast text to read on a phone in bright sunlight). Vision, hearing, or motor loss can arise from work hazards or the inevitable aspect of aging.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) predates the ubiquity of internet-accessible devices, the US Department of Justice has indicated that the ADA applies to websites that provide services and functions outlined within the Act. From a local government perspective, creating an accessible website provides equitable access to the organization’s services, which allows us to hear from those living with a disability, therefore helping us make better-informed decisions.

My role at GPCOG has been to expand the organization’s web and document accessibility by staying updated on the Web Consortium Accessibility Guidelines. I’ve been assisting with adding alt-text to website and document images and tables, along with participating in discussions on document format presentation, color contrast, and best practices.

Developing resilience is an ongoing process that comes in many forms—enhancing digital equity and inclusion can support community resilience by promoting civic engagement. Ultimately, a more accessible web helps everyone, regardless of ability. Much like curb cuts on sidewalks, accessible websites create a better user experience overall for everyone using them.

About Una Huang

Una grew up in various places throughout New England and the East Coast, but she most recently arrived in Portland from Cleveland, where she attended Case Western Reserve University. She studied Medical Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology for her bachelor's degree and Bioethics for her master's degree. She is a self-professed nerd and enjoys reading, playing Dungeons & Dragons and drinking large quantities of tea. She is excited to join the Resilience Corps to assist this wonderful area in pandemic recovery and to learn more about local government functions.

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