How to Make Your Website Accessible to "All"
In America and Europe, there are laws on the books that require websites to be accessible to people with disabilities. However, these are not the only places where there are users with disabilities. Disability occurs in all parts of the world, and all people with disabilities need services to assist them in living their everyday lives. Even if the government of a country does not require companies and organizations to make their websites accessible, it is still important that your website be accessible for all markets you serve.
The amount of people using the internet has been growing at an astounding rate. The number of people in the English-speaking market using the internet has grown by 647% from the years 2000–2018. In the Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic speaking markets, it has expanded by 2390%, 1758%, and 8616% respectively. (1) Although the numbers of people with disabilities using the internet in these regions have not expanded in the same proportion, it’s still a large number of people that are being excluded if your website is only made accessible in English, even if the website itself is available in other languages. From now on, I will use the term “English” to refer to the language in which the site is made accessible, as this is the most common language used in accessible sites. However, this is not to say that other countries do not have accessibility laws, but for simplicity’s sake I will use this term.
The first question may be: why would I want to make the site accessible if the law doesn’t require it? Other than the WCAG requirement, which says that things must be accessible in all languages it is offered in, you will attract many more visitors and customers who can use your website. Also, users with disabilities in other countries are more likely to become loyal customers of your site, simply because in countries without accessibility laws, they have less choice.
A second benefit to ensuring that your website is accessible in all languages is that the website will remain uniform, which will make it easier to update. In other words, it would be easier for your developer to maintain one accessible version, rather than both an accessible one (for the English-speaking market) and an inaccessible one (for other markets).
There is much non-text content that is made accessible via text alternatives. These text alternatives need to be localized to ensure that the website remains accessible in other languages. If English text remains on localized pages, then it becomes impossible for users with disabilities to understand the non-text content, as they probably do not speak English if they are using a localized version of the page.
Another important consideration is the lang attribute in various html, span, and iframe tags. From WCAG Guideline 3.1.1: “the default human language of each webpage can be programmatically determined.” (2). If this is not done, then the language will still be set to English, and screen readers will read localized content with English pronunciation, making the web page unreadable. WCAG guideline 3.1.2 still applies, ensuring that parts of the page that are in a different language are tagged as such.
Some webpages, when localized into languages that do not use Latin character sets, are displayed entirely with images, thus eliminating the need to mess with fonts. However, this text is not accessible to screen reader users, nor people who use magnification software. The text will need to be pulled out of the images. If the website is set to use a UTF-8 encoding scheme, the text will function perfectly with any computer set to any system language. It will also allow screen reader users to interpret characters correctly, including accents and diacritics.
However, keep in mind that just as there are cultural considerations with the general public, users with disabilities also have different cultural expectations depending on country. For example, although a text may be translated to American Sign Language, this would be completely incomprehensible to a sign language user from any other country. Not only this, but there may be different ways in which users would prefer having information communicated to them, and these must be respected to be successful in launching in other markets.
In conclusion, it is easy to maintain accessibility when internationalizing, but there are still special considerations to be taken into account. But if these considerations are taken into account, you will reach a loyal customer base unrivaled by your competition.