What is Web Accessibility?
Web Accessibility or e-Accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring no barriers prevent interaction with or access websites on the World Wide Web by people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed. When sites are correctly designed, developed, and edited, more users have equal access to information and functionality (according to Wikipedia).
Why does it matter to my real estate business?
Imagine you’re showing a potential buyer around a property you think will be perfect for them. It’s got curb appeal in spades, and it’s in precisely the right location and right on budget. Everything is going great, but they ask about the single upstairs shower room. Grandma needs one on the ground floor when she visits; two teenage daughters will never share; dad likes a bath to stretch out in – and you’ve just lost the sale.
Just like a house, your website is prime real estate, and it doesn’t matter how good it looks or how great the content is – if your customers can’t use it in the way they need to, you’re going to lose them.
And that could be as many as 15% of them if your site isn’t accessible. That’s the estimated percentage of web users who have some form of physical or neurological barrier to interacting with websites. That’s a lot of people, with a lot of spending power – $490 billion, to be exact.
Those barriers could be anything from blindness or paralysis to conditions like ADHD, color blindness, dyslexia, and epilepsy. It could be someone with a permanent condition or who broke their wrist playing football and can’t use a mouse for the next month. It could even be someone who wants to browse your online videos silently on their phone while their partner watches their favorite TV show.
Breaking Down Web Accessibility?
Web Accessibility, or e-Accessibility, is about precisely what you think it should be, just as the name implies: it’s about making your website accessible to everyone; however they need – or choose – to interact with it. That will automatically increase the number of people who can use your site.
Almost everything you do to improve the accessibility of your website for those who need it will also enhance the online experience of other users.
How do I know if my website is accessible?
Luckily, there’s a set of rules to help with that. From the early days of the internet, a consortium of experts from businesses, non-profits, universities, and governments created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WGAC). These are regularly updated and are now the global template for best practices in web accessibility.
The latest version of their guidelines, WGAC 2.1, is the gold standard for web accessibility. It’s a pretty complex document, but in a nutshell, it says your site should meet four criteria:
- Let all people access your content regardless of sensory disability. For example, giving access to automatic screen readers; making fonts editable to be easier to read; options for changing colors and contrast; text on video for the hearing impaired, etc.
- Let all people operate your site. For example, you could provide options for people to navigate your website without using a mouse, provide sight-assisted navigation, etc.
- Make it understandable. Avoid using complex jargon or confusing navigation structure. Keep it simple and consistent.
- Keep it robust. Good quality code that meets recognized standards will make it easier for everyone to use your site and keep it compatible with assistive tools people with disabilities use.
WGAC 2.1 has three grades to show how accessible a website is, from A for the most basic to AAA for the most thorough. Unless you explicitly provide a service for disabled people, AA is a comfortable middle ground covering the essential elements.
As well as keeping to WGAC 2.1 standards, it’s strongly recommended that your site meets any legal requirements for disability access in your country of operation. In the United States, that means complying with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Your real estate company could be fined up to $55,000 if your website is found to exclude people with disabilities. Luckily, if your site meets WGAC AA standards, it is doubtful it will ever cause you problems with the ADA.
There are online tools such as the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool or my favorite accessiBe that can help give you an idea of how well your site is performing regarding accessibility. Completing an accessibility review of your website should give you a snapshot of any issues you might need to address and a good idea of how much work is required to get that vital AA certification.
My site isn’t accessible. What can I do?
Unfortunately, making a website fully accessible is not a straightforward task. Usually, it’s something you’ll need to leave to the professionals. You can talk to your current website provider or in-house tech team, and they should be able to work with the WGAC guidelines to make sure all the right boxes get checked, the “T’s” are crossed, and the “I’s” get dotted.
Sometimes it can be something as simple as ensuring you’ve correctly labeled all images for screen-readers. Other times the whole structure of the website’s code might need to be addressed. With multi-platform performance and constantly evolving web technology to consider, keeping your site accessible can be a long-term project.
Think about it like this, you get a new listing, and you immediately add those lovely pictures and videos to your website. Unfortunately, some of those “fantastic” listing photos are without alternate text, and your video home tour is without captioning. This routine step could cost you a ton in developer fees and potential fines.
Are there any simply solutions available?
Fortunately, for the busy real estate agent, there are now third-party options that can make the process a lot more seamless and a lot less painful. Platforms like accessiBe, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to scan and improve your site’s accessibility, can give you full ADA/WGAC compliance in less than 48 hours. Once you install accessiBe on to your website, it will monitor your site’s performance; from now on, you can deal with any issues before they happen, and without the time and expense of a website developer.
AccessiBe provides the website visitor with custom options to tailor a site’s performance to their particular needs. Integrating these kinds of plug-ins to improve a website’s usability can be easy and provide value beyond the basic requirements of WGAC, making interaction with your business online not just compliant but more rewarding for the user and potentially converting a visitor into a client.
Summing Things Up
Making your website accessible to all potential users could involve a lot of work and investment, but the rewards are tangible. Not only do you instantly increase your online client base, but you make working with you easier for all your clients, not just those with disabilities.
You’ll also avoid running afoul of any potential legal action that might tie up your valuable time and resources. And, of course, you’ll have the personal satisfaction and business kudos of being an inclusive and welcoming company that looks after all its customers.