Accessibility & Inclusion on the Web

Making Web Applications That Work for Everyone

Credit: Mi Cine Inclusivo

As software engineers and coders, we hold a whole lot of power. In a world where technology and the internet play a sizable role in the majority of people’s lives, we have the unique ability to shape the ways in which people are able to use and interact with the internet.

For some perspective, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, a staggering 90% of American adults use the internet. In another study, the Pew Research Center found that 80% of American adults use the internet daily, with 28% confessing to being on the internet “almost constantly”.

With those statistics in mind, we need to put a bigger emphasis on developing applications that work for everyone. By being more mindful of accessibility, we can ensure that we are being as inclusive as possible.

The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.

— Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

When we talk about web accessibility, we mean creating websites, applications, and other technologies that people with all disabilities, — such as speech, visual, auditory, cognitive, neurological, and physical — can use and navigate. Since the internet is used in so many different sectors of society and our daily lives today, including education, banking, government, health care, entertainment, and keeping in touch with our social network just to name a few, having full access to the internet is a crucial part of ascertaining that people with disabilities can participate as fully as possible in society and in the larger world.

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Credit: New Target

It is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). — Web Accessibility Initiative

So what are some ways in which we can begin developing with web accessibility as a core focus?

  • Develop in keeping with the guidelines set forth by WAI-ARIA, which help make web applications more accessible and useable. WAI-ARIA is especially helpful for “dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies” (WAI).
  • Think about how your web application will work with assistive technology and develop with that in mind.
  • Include alt text that details the relevant information and the function for images.
  • Use the lang attribute in the html tag to indicate the language of a page (ex:<html lang="en">).
  • Use labels for form controls; “use a for attribute on the <label> element linked to the id attribute of the form element, or using WAI-ARIA attributes” (WAI).
  • Always provide page titles. Make sure they are informative and descriptive.
  • Structure and presentation matters — for example, make use of headings and spacing to group related content together.
  • Include transcripts and captions for multimedia.
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These are just a few suggestions for easy ways to start to increase web accessibility and inclusion. For more information, I highly recommend checking out the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI); their website contains a wealth of information and resources on web accessibility. The React Docs also provide excellent information on how to develop accessible web apps, so definitely give that a thorough read.

While it might be easy for us as developers to overlook web accessibility in our day-to-day development lives, web accessibility is a crucial part of daily life for many people. It is all of our responsibility to make sure that we keep web accessibility at the forefront of our minds so that we can develop apps that are thoughtful about the ways in which people of all abilities will be able to interact with and use said apps in meaningful ways.

Fullstack Software Engineer based in NYC. Passionate about creating social change and making a difference through innovative, powerful technologies.

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