What is Website Accessibility?

More and more, website accessibility is becoming a common term when speaking about websites. Yet, despite how important this aspect of the web has been over the past few decades, many business owners are unaware of the necessity of having an accessible website and can be caught by surprise when the idea is presented to them. In some cases, their first introduction to the concept of accessibility can come in the form of a lawsuit for failing to have an accessible website.

An accessibility icon featuring a wheelchair on a blue abstract background

What is Website Accessibility?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 27% of adults in the United States have a disability of some form. Not including temporary disabilities, that is more than one in four Americans who may need assistance in accessing a website due to a disability.

Website accessibility helps to ensure that a website can be usable by people with disabilities.

Just as brick-and-mortar storefronts are required by law, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, to be accessible to their customers with disabilities, so to must a website be accessible to its visitors under the same law.

An accessible website attempts to allow all users to easily navigate a website, access its content, and interact with the website’s features regardless of their physical and cognitive abilities.

While many may consider the Internet to be a visual experience, website accessibility extends beyond just those who are blind. There are typically six categories in which disabilities may fall within.

Types of Disabilities

Visual Impairments

When we think of visual impairments, the first instinct of many is blindness. However, there are several other forms of visual impairment. These include 5 different forms of color blindness. Other common impairments include nearsightedness, farsightedness, and partial vision loss. Color usage to provide good contrast between foreground and background colors, using font measurements that allow fonts to be easily increased or decreased, and using proper page structure are important accessibility considerations for those with visual impairments.

Auditory Impairments

There are several different forms of auditory impairments. These include conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. It is important for videos with spoken words to include captioning and/or transcripts to make them accessible to those with auditory impairments.

Motor Impairments

There are a wide range of motor impairments that can affect an individual’s ability to use the Internet. These include muscle and joint conditions such as arthritis and muscular dystrophy. They also include Cerebral Palsy as well as traumatic brain and spine injuries that can lead to motor impairments. For those with motor impairments, they may find it difficult to use a mouse or trackpad and instead use their keyboard to navigate a website.

Cognitive Impairments

Cognitive impairments can include difficulties with attention, memory, problem solving, visual processing, text processing, and math processing. These can cause an individual to have difficulty remembering where they are on a website, difficulty focusing on information for prolonged periods, and difficulty processing visual, text, and mathematical data. Using proper content structure and keeping content as simple and readable as possible can help make a website more accessible to those with cognitive impairments.

Seizures and Vestibular Disorders

Vestibular disorders affect up to 35% of adults who are 40 years of age or older in the United States. These disorders can cause vertigo, dizziness, hearing and visual disturbances, and cognitive confusion. For users with these disorders, animations, parallax backgrounds, image sliders, and unconventional scrolling can result in motion sensitivity that can lead to nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Limiting motion on the web, slowing down animated content, and giving users the ability to control these features can not only help those with vestibular disorders but can also help those individuals who suffer from seizures.

Temporary Disabilities

Not included in the 27% of Americans with a disability are those with a temporary disability. These disabilities can include broken bones, recovery from surgery such as eye surgery, and various other ailments that prevent a user from using the Internet and their devices as they normally would. Taking steps to make a website accessible for those who fall within the prior five categories can also help those with temporary disabilities with accessing a website.


Approximately 61 million American adults suffer from some form of disability, not including those with temporary disabilities. These disabilities include visual impairments, auditory impairments, motor impairments, cognitive impairments, and vestibular disorders.

While it may not be possible to make a website 100% accessible, due to changing technology, changing laws, and each individual’s life circumstances, good faith attempts to create accessible websites can help those individuals with disabilities, and all users, to use a website more easily and provide them with a better customer experience.

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