The importance of web accessibility standards

[This article was first published on The Jumping Rivers Blog, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

An accessible website is more than putting content online. Making a website accessible means ensuring that it can be used by as many people as possible. Accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) help to standardise the way in which a website can interact with assistive technologies. Allowing developers to incorporate instructions into their web applications which can be interpreted by technologies such as screen readers helps to maintain a consistent user experience for all.

Do you require help building a Shiny app? Would you like someone to take over the maintenance burden? If so, check out our Shiny and Dash services.

Why should data scientists care?

Data scientists often prepare web based content around data driven insight. This might be through reports created using technologies like {rmarkdown}, perhaps GUI front ends to expose model and data APIs built using {flask} or {plumber}, or applications to facilitate analyses with {shiny} or {dash}. These outputs are created with the intention of being used by others, giving capacity to users to derive meaning and value from data and statistical or mathematical models. My users might be key stakeholders and decision makers at one of our clients, or indeed the general public. Maximising the ability for my users to gain the insight that a solution provides helps to guarantee that, as a company, we are providing value and an impactful service.

Certainly, at Jumping Rivers, as we build solutions for a number of public sector organisations, consideration of accessibility criteria has become an important part of development standards.

Making my Site Accessible

Meeting accessibility requirements has become an increasing area of focus for many developers. The accessibility regulations came into force for public sector bodies in the UK in September 2018, expanding upon the obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act. In the UK alone there are almost 2 million people classed as fully or partially blind, a further 1.5 million with a learning disability and another 11 million with some degree of hearing loss. Implementing WCAG, an approved ISO standard, is an excellent way of making sure that your website is up to par.

What is WCAG?

WCAG is a technical standard primarily aimed at web developers providing a set of testable guidelines arranged into 4 categories:

  • Perceivable: Content must be detectable to a users senses. This might mean text alternatives for non-text content that can be read aloud using a screen reader for people with reading difficulties, short equivalents for images or descriptions of data represented on a chart or diagram.
  • Operable: Your site is comfortably navigable for users and there isn’t any part of the site that is inaccessible to someone. Many people do not use the mouse and rely on the keyboard to interact with a website. This requires keyboard access to all functionality and user interface components.
  • Understandable: Clarity on how to use and navigate the content, ensuring that users can process the information presented to them. This involves things like making text readable and understandable and making sure content appears in and operates in predictable ways.
  • Robust: Robustness covers planning for the evolution of technology and user changes, making sure that content remains accessible and comprehensible to users with a range of different disabilities. The aim is to make your site compatible with different browsers and assistive technologies, for example, providing names, roles and values for non-standard user interface components.

Other Benefits of Accessibility

Web accessibility can add value beyond making sure that your content is able to be experienced by all.

  • SEO: Many different factors contribute to search engine optimisation (SEO), including content and user experience. Because search engine providers want to deliver only the best results to their users, crawlers are also interested in the user experience of your website and rank it according to usability. Fixing accessibility issues has the added benefit of improving SEO.
  • Widened audience: Ultimately, people will only use and revisit websites that they can actually use. By designing your content with accessibility in mind, making it usable for all, you are not restricting your site to only those that do not have difficulties consuming content through a standard browser.
  • Enhancing your brand: A clear commitment to accessibility highlights a genuine sense of corporate social responsibility, helping to protect and enhance your businesses brand.
  • Improved mobile usability: An ever increasing number of site visits are being made using mobile devices. For accessibility, users should be able to magnify the screen and retain access to all of the content. This is similar to browsing on a smaller screen, say a smartphone.
  • Coding standards: Designing for and implementing accessibility from the off also encourages strict adherence to proper coding practices. This tends to lead to cleaner, more performant and easier to maintain code reducing total cost over the lifespan of a website.

Jumping Rivers Logo

For updates and revisions to this article, see the original post

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: The Jumping Rivers Blog. offers daily e-mail updates about R news and tutorials about learning R and many other topics. Click here if you're looking to post or find an R/data-science job.
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

Never miss an update!
Subscribe to R-bloggers to receive
e-mails with the latest R posts.
(You will not see this message again.)

Click here to close (This popup will not appear again)