Higher Standards for Inclusion: Web Accessibility in Drupal 8

See the business case for improving web accessibility and how Drupal offers a more accessible experience for all your customers.

woman using a screen reader

“The web was born as an open, decentralized platform allowing different people in the world to access and share information,” writes Drupal founder Dries Buytaert. The vision of a universal and accessible World Wide Web with equal access to knowledge and resources is a founding tenet of open source communities such as Drupal.  

So who benefits from digital accessibility? Most simply, everyone. Web accessibility standards seek to create a better experience for people who are blind or visually impaired, people with physical/motor disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing or people suffering from a temporary injury or illness. Web accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, and when businesses ignore or overlook individuals with disabilities they both reject a significant portion of their audience and put themselves at risk of severe financial consequences. Keep reading to see how Drupal prioritizes an accessible web experience for all, and why you should make digital accessibility a top business priority.   

The Consequences of Ignoring Accessibility 

In recent years, the movement for a more accessible web has evolved from a moral obligation to a legal priority, and businesses must take action to ensure their own digital properties meet global standards. “Organisations are starting to understand the universal usability benefits of accessibility’, says Olena Bulygina, UX consultant at Acquia partner and digital agency Inviqa. “According to our Great CX for All Report, 85% of businesses say they lose out when they don’t cater to users with digital access needs, and we’ve found that usability benefits are the single biggest driver for accessibility initiatives. This appreciation that accessible products are better products will be key to helping more brands design inclusively and ensure a great customer experience for everyone alike,” Bulygina explained.  

When businesses fall short, they lose valuable customers and put themselves at risk for damaging legal penalties. According to a 2019 WebAIM report, 98% of website homepages are inaccessible, costing UK businesses close to £2 billion a month. Beyond just the financial losses from fines and legal fees, failing to deliver accessible experiences can cause long-term damage to your brand reputation and alienate users. A study in the UK found that 71% of web users with a disability will leave a website that is not accessible. In 2018, the UK implemented a law requiring all UK service providers to consider “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people. All public sector sites must adhere to the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard and publish an accessibility statement that explains how your website/application meets accessibility criteria. 

When brands embrace inclusivity as the default, they improve the web experience for all and expand their potential market share to include everyone from non-native speakers, aging populations as well as those with temporary or permanent impairments. Here are a few ways that inclusive web design helps businesses expand their reach and better serve customers: 

  • Incorporating non-visible site features such as alt-text descriptions and descriptive text for rich media assets makes your sites more easily discoverable by search engines. For example, the popular NPR show “This American Life” found that by providing episode transcripts on their website, they were able to boost organic search traffic by 6.68%
  • Accessible website design often results in streamlined code that improves page load times and reduces bandwidth costs. 
  • Higher colour contrasts and standardised fonts make content more readable to mobile users and those viewing pages in poor lighting.

Digital leaders understand that the web community is diverse and their sites should reflect these different needs and preferences. That’s why Drupal is committed to bringing organisations the tools and features they need to create more accessible digital experiences. 

How Drupal 8 Prioritizes Digital Accessibility 

When Drupal 8 was initially released in 2015, improving website accessibility was a top priority. Drupal core now comes equipped with the Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), a guideline of technical specifications established by the World Wide Web Consortium to make websites accessible for people with disabilities. Including these specifications directly in Drupal core makes it simpler than ever to build and launch barrier-free sites that adhere to web regulations. Developers have access to all WAI-ARIA capabilities upon initial install, saving businesses the extensive time and resources of having to retroactively equip their sites with accessible components. The Claro administrative theme included in Drupal 8.8 provides a cleaner, easier-to-use interface for site administration, configuration and authoring. 

Other improved web accessibility features in Drupal 8 include:

  • Aural Alerts 
  • Control Tab Order 
  • Fieldsets and Details 
  • Required Alt Text 
  • Improved colour scheme, font sizes and mobile responsiveness features

What to Expect for Accessibility Improvements in Drupal 9  

Later this year, the much-anticipated Drupal 9 will be released, and improving accessibility was a top goal when planning for this latest release. One of the major ways this will be accomplished will be by updating the core Drupal default theme to a more modern and inclusive user experience right out of the box. Here is an overview of what users can expect from the updated default theme in Drupal 9:

  • An inclusive front-end design that reflects current and future CMS standards
  • Additional functionality that supports new features, such as second-level navigation, embedded media, Layout Builder and other UX improvements 
  • A totally WCAG AA compliant theme 

The mission for a more inclusive and open web experience is always evolving, and the Drupal community is committed to leading the charge. If you’re interested in learning more, Acquia and Inviqa are hosting a webinar on 28, April 2020. Register here to join.

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