Every day billions of people from all over the world use the internet. Millions of those include people with disabilities. Some struggle with using a mouse or keyboard, while others have visual or hearing impairments. As a designer or developer, it’s extremely important that we build our websites and applications to fit users of all needs, taking accessibility into consideration so that the users can interact, navigate and understand how to use the site we have created.

There are accessibility mechanisms like transcripts, specialty keyboards and screen readers that can provide assistance for users. To get better acquainted with developing sites to be complaint with ADA standards and discover the importance of accessibility, I installed ChromeVox within my Chrome browser and decided to run some tests.

I would have never imagined it would be as difficult as it was to use the screen reader.

I visited popular websites that tend to draw a lot of users, such as Github, Dribbble, The New York Times and Facebook.

One interesting aspect I found while conducting these tests was Facebook’s commitment to creating a good experience for everyone. You can find more information about it on this Facebook help page. Just recently, Facebook released a new feature specifically to help improve navigation for people using screen readers and keyboard shortcuts, which you can find by hitting alt + /. By using this command, it activates a menu that allows the user to jump to sections of the current page, other pages on Facebook, or additional accessibility resources.

One of my biggest discoveries was that even though I could see everything that was going on while interacting with each site, using the keyboard as my primary navigation tool was difficult. Between tabbing through the information and the improper use of semantics on some of the sites, having an understanding of the use of the content was still incredibly confusing at times.

The overall experience of using a screen reader was eye opening on how the importance and necessity for accessible websites. Think about how often you visit various websites. No matter what the purpose of your visit, typically if you have a bad experience interacting with it or it's difficult to navigate, you will likely close the browser tab or find a new site to view. Now imagine if this was your experience with every site, every time. Without proper accessibility standards applied to your web projects, those users who suffer from impairments will have a bad experience as well. Which is why it's so important as designers and developers to create an experience any and everyone can enjoy.

To find out more information about Web Accessibility, go check out the Web Accessibility Initiative.

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