In the next few years, a billion new people are expected to come online for the first time. And according to the World Health Organization, 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability. For the US, that's one out of every five people. So, what happens to the people who don’t experience online media as a convenient default? What happens when an entire population can’t adequately access your website and other digital content?
When digital content isn’t accessible, you exclude billions of people from an online world full of opportunities. That is a steep price to pay.
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility is the ability of a website, video, mobile application, or electronic document to be perceivable, operable, and understandable by a wide range of users, including people with visual, auditory, speech, motor, neurological, or cognitive disabilities.
At its core, digital accessibility is making websites understandable and usable for everyone, across all devices. This idea is recognized by the United Nations as a basic human right. It’s important to note that access doesn’t only pertain to people who are living with permanent conditions. Limitations can be temporary or situational, and also encompass the well-documented basic need conditions of low bandwidth or no Internet access.
If prospective students can’t access your school’s website, they’re not going to inquire or apply. Students’ online experiences matter. Schools that truly understand the larger issues differentiate themselves by designing with empathy and inclusion in mind, rather than designing to simply meet formal web standards. Colleges and universities that embrace the concept of holistic accessibility demonstrate their commitment to inclusion and expand their opportunities to reach new students. By limiting your digital reach you could also be opening your doors to litigation and lawsuits.
Web accessibility is bad—and getting worse
Based on a study by WebAIM, 98% of the world's top 1 million websites don't offer full accessibility—and education is no exception. Across all the websites reviewed, nearly 50,000 of them were in the education space and fared just above the average number of accessibility errors on the page with 50.8.
Of those who regularly use screen readers, 60% feel the accessibility of web content has either not changed or become worse over the past year. More than 70% believe this is due to a lack of web accessibility awareness or skills.
More than seven out of 10 web users with disabilities won’t tolerate non-accessible websites. Instead, they’ll leave a website in search of one that’s more user-friendly, which can increase a website’s bounce rate and potentially harm its organic rankings.
Benefits of improving your site's accessibility
Improving your site’s accessibility provides tangible benefits. It creates a competitive advantage. It increases your institution’s reach to a larger segment of the population. You gain the benefits of web optimization, because accessibility aligns with many SEO stats and best practices. Visitor and student satisfaction increases as their ability to navigate your site and view your content enhances their view of your school.
When your school’s website accommodates the needs of disabled people, you stand out from the inaccessible crowd and provide a better user experience, which will help increase inquiry requests and applications.
0%of surveyed adult learners said they will abandon school websites that are not user-friendly
Which disabilities should your website support?
When most think about website accessibility, their first concern may be how people with vision impairments can engage with a website. That’s an important consideration, but web accessibility is a broader concept. Your goal/mission is developing and designing sites that are accessible to people with any disability.
Disabilities that interfere with hearing, reading, cognition, or motor skills can make navigating and understanding a website difficult. But accessibility also extends beyond disabilities. Everyone benefits from increased accessibility. Think about the time that you used closed captions to watch a video without sound, or when you used a voice assistant to type out a text message or play music. Website accessibility can be improved with the right technology and creativity—if a standard feature isn’t accessible for all users, there’s almost always an alternative.
Make accessibility a priority
Proactively addressing any web accessibility issues facing your school should become a top priority.
If you hire a digital agency to build a new website for your brand, you should make sure that the agency understands website accessibility and has the necessary tools and know-how to create an ADA-compliant site. Even if your website isn’t due for a major overhaul, you should audit your content and code to find and correct any issues that keep it from being accessible for all.
The best rule of thumb is to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines cover a wide range of elements to ensure web accessibility compliance—from proper use of alt text to enabling keyboard-only navigation. Optimizing your content for a wide range of needs highlights your dedication to your audience.
The Internet is an essential part of our modern world—and schools have a responsibility to ensure that all potential users can access their content.
Are you effectively engaging key audiences?
Find out how well your .edu supports your enrollment goals with these self-tests.