This is the first in a two-part series on web accessibility. To skip the legal stuff and read more about what accessible website design looks like in practice, jump to Part 2.

An estimated 1 billion people around the world experience some type of disability — that’s about 15% of the population. In the United States, 61 million adults (26%) live with a disability; in Canada, it’s 6.2 million people aged 15 or older (22%).

The World Health Organization (WHO) says almost everyone is likely to experience some form of temporary or permanent disability at some point in their life. A temporary disability could be a broken bone, concussion, post-surgery recovery period, or mental health condition that requires ongoing treatment, to name a few examples.

People with disabilities may face barriers with communication, finance, physical mobility, and discrimination. These challenges can make it difficult or outright impossible to use websites like yours.

What are the barriers to website use?

A woman with a cochlear implant sits at a desk holding a phone with one hand and typing on a laptop with the other

Disability can impact an online user’s experience in multiple ways. Common examples include difficulty reading small text, impaired colour vision, hearing loss, sensitivity to animated visuals, or motor impairments that make it difficult to use a mouse or trackpad.

Now let’s imagine how the average website could pose barriers. Cramped text in hard-to-read fonts, colour palettes that don’t contrast enough, or lack of keyboard navigation could make it very difficult or unpleasant for people with certain disabilities to use a website. Without alt text and labelled visuals, someone with a screen reader would miss out on entire sections of content. Things like flickering animations could even trigger seizures, causing harm that could have been avoided.

When you address issues in your website’s accessibility, you remove those challenges (or at least make it a lot more comfortable to use). In the process, you welcome a whole new audience onto your site.

Some legal FAQs, answered

What guidelines should we follow?

That would be the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an international standard published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG 2.0 has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Your website’s level depends on how many accessibility criteria it’s able to meet.

With Level A at the lowest end, most businesses must aim to meet Level AA at minimum. Level AAA is a great goal, though not all businesses will be able to satisfy the criteria.

There’s a lot to break down at this regulatory level, but we’re here to keep things simple. You can find the full guidelines here.

Who’s coming to get me if I don’t do it?

A man with a cast on his arm sits at a desk typing in front of a monitor

Maybe no one. Or maybe the Sandman will curse you with eternal sleep. More likely, you could face a fine or other corrective action from the governing body in your region. Of course, you also risk alienating users who could otherwise benefit from using your site.

Check the web accessibility standards in your country. Canada has the Standard on Web Accessibility, as well as several province-specific accessibility codes, like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is most often cited for web accessibility compliance.

Anyone looking to enforce or implement these codes will look to WCAG as the definitive international standard.

Are there other updates coming?

Always. The tech space has changed quite a bit since WCAG 2.0 was first published in 2008 — enough that people have called accessibility the “Wild West of the internet” — so W3C releases new drafts with modern updates. The latest draft, WCAG 2.2, is set to release in December 2022 with some additional success criteria.

Many of the notable deadlines in Canada and the US have recently passed, but there is an upcoming date of January 1, 2025 to meet AODA guidelines. It’s always a good idea to watch out for changes in your region’s accessibility law or new developments in accessible technology.

Improving accessibility is a win-win

We now know that many B2B buyers prefer to do the bulk of their research online before ever contacting someone on your sales team. In that sense, accessibility and UX go hand-in-hand. It’s all about making it easy for users to find the information they need (and gaining their trust in the process).

Ready to start your web accessibility overhaul?

Read Part 2 of our series to see how the guidelines can be implemented, or contact Motum B2B to speak with someone who knows the ropes.