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Web Accessibility: Fulfilling Tim Berners-Lee's Dream of a Better Web

When Tim Berners-Lee named the World Wide Web (WWW), he imagined using it as a way to escape "database boundaries" so that information would no longer be centralized, and would be enriched through dispersion across the globe.

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Marketers Frontend Architects

Published 19 Oct, 2020 3 minutes of reading

To speak of web accessibility is to speak of the universality of communication and information, since it gives everyone the opportunity to use one of the most powerful tools of the last century: the Internet.

And the fact is that when taking into account our current situation, where we’re all being put in check by the coronavirus pandemic, many people have turned to the web: more for entertainment than ever, remote work, or simply to get information. That being said, is everyone being granted the same privilege of access?

"If you think about how to make it easier for a robot to read code, you are inherently thinking about people who have different abilities."

When Tim Berners-Lee named the World Wide Web (WWW) along with HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) he imagined using these tools as a way to escape "database boundaries" so that information would no longer be centralized, and would be enriched through dispersion across the globe.

In this context, Berners-Lee's thinking continues to make sense today. But, not everyone follows his philosophy, the founder of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—an international consortium that generates recommendations and standards for the web—when building the web, perhaps out of ignorance, or laziness.

Leaving clues along the way

Building a website goes well beyond the front-facing aesthetics that it may display to the user when showing content, colors, logos and images. In fact, a website needs to perform an even greater task that most people are not aware of. The question is... Do all developers follow through?

We’ll get to what the greater task is, but the answer to the question is “no.” Because of not following through on this greater task, one of the results is that many entities or enterprises often don't understand why their brand or company isn’t appearing in the search engines of the various browsers. They aren’t clear in understanding what they lack.

When we talk about search engines, we need to envision a robot that is reading constantly, all the time. This bot needs a guide of sorts to be able to follow the correct path and understand what it’s reading. This bot needs "clues" so that it can read all the content that it wants to present to the public.

These "clues" are relevant for virtual crawlers, and are achieved by making sites accessible with the implementation of labeled and well organized hierarchical headings (on page SEO), which contain an understandable language: a navigation through the keyboard tab, giving the possibility to explore a whole page through this key. Colors and texts that contrast, so that there is a total visibility of the messages and content, HTML attributes which explain and describe the action of a button or the display of a modal, and other features that provide clarity and context.

To think about bots is to think about people with different capacities

There are 4 principles of accessibility: perception, operability, comprehension and robustness. Implementing these principles in a website will not only improve site and content access for larger audiences, it will also result in good SEO positioning, and a better reputation for your organization.

At Modyo, we apply some of these principle criteria, while others are the responsibility of our customers to provide better experiences and usable interfaces for their users, in addition to thinking about better customer access to the different products in which our company is involved.

For example, in terms of perception, we use optimal contrasts, legible fonts with the right size for reading, and implement good web semantics in HTML code.

As for operability, we also consider keyboard-based navigation by site visitors, so that they can move through all the elements within a page, ensuring it’s possible with a sequential, ordered, logical and intuitive focus.

For comprehension, labels are implemented that correctly describe the purpose of the controls and language, aligned with the audience to which a particular product is directed.

Finally, the robustness of all sites developed and implemented in Modyo has become a standard, with clean, structured code in HTML, CSS and JS.

If you think about how to make it easier for a bot to read the code of your site, based on the above examples, you are inherently thinking about people who have different abilities (people with visual, hearing, motor or other problems) who also need to access information to solve their particular needs: perform a bank transaction, buy a product, hire an online service, learn more about current events, and more.

Following the core principles of perception, operability, comprehension, and robustness, fulfills one of Tim Berners-Lee’s dreams regarding the universality of the web and its free access. It co-opts a dynamic, changing technology that undergoes constant innovation in a way that leverages its power to the benefit of everyone. Plus, following the principles elevates the findability of your products and services across major search engines, precisely because of the fact that they are available to a wider audience, bots and everyone included.

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