In 2023, having an accessible website is not just a trend, it is also a legal requirement in some regions of the world. It stands to reason that as more of our lives are becoming more interwoven with digital technology, the ability to access websites is a human right that needs to be protected.
So, what does this mean for your website’s design and SEO? Let’s dig a little deeper.
In the United States, guidelines for web accessibility are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Websites are required to be ADA-compliant.
Back in 2020, there were more than 2500 lawsuits filed in the federal court of the United States concerning websites that were not accessible to people with disabilities. This number increased by 14% in the following year. The environment in the United States is highly litigious when it comes to web accessibility for the disabled.
Though there aren’t published figures regarding web accessibility lawsuits in Canada, Canadian provincial statutes also layout guidelines and requirements regarding web accessibility. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), for example, requires all public sectors, as well as private and non-profit organizations that have more than 50 employees, to be compliant with the most updated version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Guidelines for web accessibility are constantly evolving. Factors that influence these guidelines include the devices used to access the internet and the type of content made available.
For example, in different versions of statutes that define web accessibility compliance, there are guidelines for mobile optimization (owing to the increase of smartphone users) as well as guidelines for video content (owing to the fact that more and more information is conveyed using this content format).
Another factor that influences web accessibility guidelines is the evolving scope of what is considered a disability. For example, ADHD was not recognized as a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) until 1990. As for mental illnesses like anxiety and depression in current times, they are so far only conditionally recognized as disabilities, depending on each individual’s case.
Given that scopes of recognized disabilities can change and evolve over time, businesses must be alert. It would be best to be aware of web accessibility compliance updates as part of regular website reviews and overhauls.
Currently, accessibility is not one of the explicit factors that influence search engine optimization. However, Google is still capable of measuring web accessibility, as seen in their open-source website auditing tool, Google Lighthouse.
There are also a number of web accessibility best practices that also simultaneously boost SEO, even if web accessibility is not an explicit ranking factor. A few examples include being contrast-sensitive in design, including alt texts for images, and adding audio/video transcriptions.
These are optimizations that can benefit people with disabilities as well as people who have situational impairments. Examples of situational impairments include being somewhere with extremely bright light (therefore needing great contrast) or not having earbuds (therefore relying on video transcripts).
Another reason why web accessibility impacts SEO is that around 15% of the world’s population experience a form of disability. This amounts to 1 billion people. Taking this volume into consideration, improving the user experience through accessibility practices will benefit any business and allow you to leverage much higher rates of search traffic.