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October 02, 2018

The difference between making sites accessible through a template, compared to using an accessibility interface

Gal Vizel CMO at accessiBe
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There are two main methods on the subject of making a website accessible to people with disabilities, and the truth is they're both good, each in its own way. Of course, each has its advantages and disadvantages, but in the end, unlike the accessibility solution provided through a free plugin, here it is possible to achieve a very high level of accessibility, one that meets the standard and even more.

Making websites accessible directly through a template

This system supports "pre-made" accessibility. It means that the site comes fully accessible to all surfers, whether they are disabled or not. Apparently, this is a very convenient solution because the disabled person will not have to look for the appropriate accessibility features and/or be required to make certain actions to enable accessibility. At the same time, it is important to understand that there are three main drawbacks to the template system:

Restriction of design: Since the site appears accessible from the beginning to every surfer, whether he has a disability or not, there are quite a few design limitations:

  • Not every font is available for use, since different fonts may be unreadable or smeared. Not every style is available for use, since absolute straightening (JUSTIFY) is against accessibility regulations (it interferes some screen readers from understanding the direction of writing), And not every size, shape or color that we as designers would like to utilize, is available for choosing.
  • Not every media type is available for use. And even if it is, we must provide different possibilities of control in advance. For example, placing stop buttons on videos that run in the background as part of the site's design, even if their whole purpose is simply to run in the background and give the site a certain edge.
  • The site designer will not have access to the entire color contrast and palette, that is because, in the accessibility regulations, the color contrast must be in a very specific ratio (proportion) according to the WCAG 2.0 regulation.
  • Of course, it is important to make sure that every part of the site has a big and prominent focus in any situation, which will usually cause a lot of frustration to professional designers.

In the end, all of those things, even if blessed and intended for a good cause, are problematic for the designer, who must work with limited options from the beginning. Also, most of the new websites are not designed from scratch, but rather use a premade template. In most cases, these templates are not accessible at all. And so, making templates accessible can sometimes include substantial changes to the template’s code, to the point that removes the manufacturer's warranty for malfunctions, repairs, or support, and even restricts you from updating the template whenever the manufacturer releases an update.

Impact on the site’s speed and performance: Many of the scripts and styles that are related to accessibility are considered heavy when compared with other scripts and styles (like a slider or a gallery), so they take longer than usual to fully load for the user. As a result, the browsing experience for regular surfers might be disturbed because they will have to wait longer than usual for the site to load even though they do not need special accessibility features (and usually they won’t even know that). One of the most important experiences for the modern surfer is smooth surfing without interruption or slow loading times. Additionally, the site loading speed is a very important factor in SEO (search engine optimization), and is not something you would like to damage.

Direct accessibility through the template code may slow down the site and cause users to leave, Thus, making a site accessible directly through template is an action that helps only one audience - people with disabilities, but harms the experience of other surfers (which makes for most of the site surfers) - ordinary surfers who do not need accessibility features.

Changes, additions, and updates: In manual accessibility, any changes you make in the future (adding pages, sections of the site, images, media, content, templates, forms, updates, etc.) will require you to make them accessible as well. It sounds like almost nothing at first, but in the end, we live in an age where sites need to be updated constantly and in a professional way (a factor that is also important for the site SEO).

Assuming that updates like that require you to make additional accessibility adjustments which will require both time and money, you may soon "give up" here and there on the accessibility level of your site, in order to ease ongoing work and budget. When you give up "here and there", it quickly gets to the point in which the site is full of accessibility "holes", which together leads to a complete collapse of the site's accessibility level, to the extent that even if we have made it accessible at the beginning, very quickly it will no longer meet the standard or the law.

Making websites accessible using an accessibility interface

In modern times, we all love personal attention. We surf the social networks that give us a way of expression, emails address us by our name, and sites offer us suggestions that match our preferences and even actions we have done in the past, or what may interest us in the future. Shopping sites know how to offer us personal offers according to our past orders, and the best salespeople know that they will not sell anything if they do not give us the feeling that they are there just for us, concisely - we live in a generation where if you do not adapt yourself to the customer, the customer leaves.

The solution of making websites accessible using an interface is based on and supports the principle that each surfer will have the appropriate accessibility, according to his limitations and specific needs. This principle is expressed in a way that through a particular interface, a person with a disability will simply be able to tailor the site only for himself and his own needs. For example, a person suffering from epilepsy can open the interface and automatically turn off all the flickering and animations throughout the site, so that he will never get a seizure by browsing one site or another.

Another good example is a person with Parkinson's disease. Such a person needs the site on which he is surfing to allow adjustments to the use of the mouse according to his limitations, and will allow navigating the site using only one keyboard key fully. This person would not have any use for the same accessibility settings tailored to a visually impaired person, with huge texts and focus in bright colors, it will not help his surfing experience, and can even make him leave the site.

Needless to say, if a surfer is not disabled, his surfing experience will remain the same and he can surf any site as much as the other, with animations and all other features. Thanks to accessibility through an interface, it is possible to offer different possibilities suitable for different populations segments, with specific and customized accessibility features that will in no way affect another person, who needs specific accessibility features or does not need any accessibility features at all.

Additionally, with accessibility through an interface, two main problems in the template method are solved:

  1. There is no need to compromise on the site's design because the design can be matched to specific disabilities when required by the interface (by pressing a button). The average surfer will see a regular site, and the visually impaired will see a site with large and clear fonts. A person suffering from Parkinson's will have a site that allows him to navigate with a keyboard key, and an epileptic person will receive a version without animations, etc.
  2. Because the relevant scripts and styles only come up when the surfer chooses to, then loading the site itself will be much faster and smoother, or at least without the heavy, full accessibility-related scripts, allowing a better browsing experience for everyone.

In AccessiBe it is possible to see the adoption of the accessibility system through an interface in an optimal manner - this interface enables the automatic creation of accessibility using advanced artificial intelligence systems (an Israeli patent in registration process) that scan the site and create the accessibility accordingly, with ongoing scanning that also handles updates made on the site on a regular basis.

Using the same system, it is possible to create the appropriate accessibility for all kinds of people with disabilities, and without harming the user experience for the other groups. The blind user will be able to enjoy screen reading software, the motor disabled will be able to navigate the site through a regular/virtual keyboard, and the list goes on - but the goal is simple: creating a qualitative user experience suitable for every surfer, no matter which group he belongs to or what disability he suffers from.

The revolution is already here - and it is called AccessiBe. The choice between accessibility through a template and accessibility through an interface will, of course, remain your choice, but the real accessibility will almost always occur only on sites that really adapt themselves every day and every hour, with every update and change, without compromising the best quality, out of the belief that every person is entitled to enjoy free internet, Anywhere and anytime.

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