Web accessibility and aesthetics: not an either/or

By Sammy Noorani, Director of Digital Inclusion, FCB Health New York



The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), designed with the objective of addressing an increasingly pressing issue: making websites more accessible to people with disabilities. The guidelines are divided into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Each principle outlines criteria that web content must meet to be deemed “accessible.” Ultimately, web accessibility guidelines are an important part of making the internet a more inclusive place. By making our websites accessible, we are helping to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the digital world.

With this in mind, let’s dive in and discuss the details—and challenges—of balancing WCAG compliancy with aesthetic appeal.

An accessible website should be “invisible” to the user

Websites should be designed with accessibility top of mind to ensure ease of use and navigation regardless of the user’s abilities, and so that those with disabilities can use it as easily as abled users. A website can be aesthetically pleasing and WCAG AA compliant at the same time. In fact, accessibility can improve a website’s design and heighten its visual appearance.

For instance, the WCAG requires websites to have sufficient contrast between the text and its background. Implementing this on websites can have several benefits, including aesthetics and visual clarity for all viewers. Another guideline is to organize content in a logical and intuitive way, which can improve the overall visual design of the website, making content easier to read for everyone.

WCAG also transcends the mere visual aspects of a website. Many web accessibility errors can be due to the coding of the website, and correcting several of these errors has no impact on the design or the layout of your page. For example, utilizing semantic marking up can make it easier for screen readers to access website content. By providing alternative text for images, you can enable screen reader users to understand the context of the image. In addition, optimizing the back-end coding can also make your site easier to navigate for keyboard users. This is an important feature for individuals with mobility impairment who primarily rely on their keyboard for navigation.

Making the web more inclusive: it's good for business, it's good for people

Beyond being the socially responsible thing to do, here are few other compelling reasons why a website should be WCAG AA compliant:

  • To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A website is now interpreted as a “place of accommodation” under Title III of the ADA. Therefore, your website should be accessible to all visitors
  • To improve your brand image: Making your website accessible is a positive way to show that you care about all users, including those with disabilities. This can help build a strong and inclusive brand image
  • To optimize your SEO: Major search engines (like Google and Bing) take accessibility into account when ranking websites. By enhancing your website’s accessibility, you can improve your ranking in the search engine results and attract more visitors overall
  • To make your website more user-friendly: Accessibility is not just about making your website accessible to people with disabilities. It’s about making your website more user-friendly for every single visitor. Following WCAG allows you to create a website experience that is easy for everyone to use, no matter their abilities

Web accessibility is not just about complying with the law or making your website look good. It's about making your website accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. By following WCAG guidelines, you can create a website that is both accessible and aesthetically pleasing.