Why mobile Web accessibility matters – best practices to make your mobile site accessible

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

This mantra is as true for the mobile Web as it is for the desktop Web. Over a billion people worldwide live with some kind of disability, and 285 million have visual impairments (39 million are blind and 246 have low vision), according to World Health Organization (WHO). Given these numbers, what excuses are there for bad design practices that shut users out who are visually impaired and/or rely on assistive technologies?

Making your site more accessible is partly about design – such as avoiding color schemes that make things difficult for short-sighted or color-blind people to decipher – and partly about developing sites that can be decoded and easily navigated by screen-readers. People with more severe visual impairments rely on screen readers (on mobile and desktop devices) to read aloud the content of Websites.

Over the last 10 years we have seen much improvement in accessibility of desktop sites. Table-layouts, spacer gifs, image headers and flash-only sites – none of which worked well with screen-readers – are relatively rare these days and most Websites follow the Web standards of the W3C. Several things have contributed to this improved situation including adoption of CSS3 and HTML5; adherence to accessibility standards, including the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG); and adoption of the principles of Semantic Web (semantic markup describes the purpose of code and is very useful for screen readers as we will see in Tip 5).

The mobile Web needs to be accessible to all disabled people – whether it is mobile Websites, embedded Web views in apps or responsive mobile-optimized sites. While some experienced mobile developers incorporate these Web best practices into their mobile sites, others are making similar mistakes to those made by Web developers a decade ago. There’s a worrying trend towards designing sites for a particular type or brand of handset, rather than catering to all; and/or becoming too focused on emulating the snappy look and feel of native apps in mobile Web development, even if that means forsaking Web standards and principles of accessibility.

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