How To Make Your Website More Accessible
The internet is bringing the world closer together. It represents a free sharing of knowledge, information, and culture that enriches our lives. Yet, there are still obstacles to access for some. World Bank has reported that approximately 1 billion people experience some form of disability, and as a result, there is potential for a significant proportion of the population to have difficulty in collaborating in one of the most important advances in our history.
This is where web accessibility is vital. As a movement, it places emphasis on-site owners utilizing design methods that ensure people experiencing physical, mental, and socio-economic challenges have equal access. For business websites, in particular, there is a legal responsibility in addition to the ethical duty. Precedent exists to consider websites as public places, which must be accessible to individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Even putting legislation aside, accessibility just makes good business sense. It opens your business to more consumers and strengthens your reputation, after all. So, let’s examine some of the practices that can make your website a more inclusive and positive space.
Navigation and Usability
Basic navigation is a core concern for web accessibility. This doesn’t just come down to strict disability awareness, either — from a user experience (UX) perspective, it should always be easy for all customers to find their way around your site, regardless of challenges.
Some points to consider include:
- Mouseless Browsing
Not all users will be able to easily operate a mouse. Therefore you must establish whether your site can be navigated using just a keyboard. Visitors should be able to reach every element using the tab key and select it using the enter button.
- Color and Contrast
Color use can give personality to your website, but your choices can also make it difficult to read. Some people — such as those with color blindness — have trouble identifying certain aspects of your site due to the choice of hue. Similarly, visitors with visual impairments may struggle to read colored text against an insufficiently contrasted background. Make certain that all text and images meet the recommended contrast ratio of 4.5:1. Also ensure that instructions to visitors do not rely solely on the color description, such as “click on the green button.”
- Text and Typography
The way in which text is presented on a website can be challenging to users. Small sizes may be inappropriate for those with visual impairments. Cramped, highly stylized typography can also be confusing for those who live with dyslexia. Always opt for simplicity and clarity when selecting typefaces, avoid italics. Also, make certain that your site responds well to the text resizing functions on all browsers.
- Media and Pop-Ups
Content has become an essential element of business websites. Make certain that videos have closed captioning enabled, and that podcasts have the option of a transcribed alternative. If you are utilizing AI-driven chatbots for customer service, ensure that these are loaded with text-to-speech software.
Just as the internet of things (IoT) is utilizing sensors and wearables to improve business, digital tools have also been instrumental in continuing to develop tools to empower those with physical and psychological challenges to interact with online environments. As such, your website design decisions must consider how visitors might apply their assistive technology.
Screen readers are one of the most common forms those with visual impairments navigate websites. This is software that captures the written information on the screen and translates it to audio. When designing your website, make certain that all purely image-based objects have alternative text build into the code. This should not just describe the image, but also explain the context of the image. One of the frequent problems experienced by screen readers is the translation of data in tables. Limit your use of tables on your website, and where they are necessary be sure to use clear headings and context for each row and column.
Wearable technology is also beginning to see use in assistive arenas, particularly when it comes to communication aids for those on the autistic spectrum. Speech generating devices can help those who function non-verbally, and there are assistive software and apps available on mobile phones. This is why it’s important to consider that the same tech that your users may be browsing on will be that they use for assistive apps. You should therefore avoid elements that might disrupt their use, such as autoplaying media, frequent pop-ups, or automatic navigation.
One of the most important things to remember about web accessibility is that it isn’t a static issue. There is likely to be changed from both within your own business, technology, and our knowledge of disability. As such, you need to commit to regularly auditing your website to ensure it is meeting — preferably exceeding — accessibility standards.
Most online entrepreneurs are familiar with plugins for their ecommerce CMS, but there are also platforms for accessibility auditing. Some, such as WP ADA Compliance Check Basic and WP Accessibility, regularly scan the code of your WordPress site to identify areas that users may find challenging. However, it’s important that you put work into ensuring that the plugins you use for auditing are kept up to date with ADA compliance standards.
It’s also worth noting that automated applications are often limited to the legal guidelines, which don’t cover all potential issues. Treat these plugins as additional tools to assist your audit, rather than comprising the entire audit itself. Dedicate time, and if possible allocate a specific member of staff to researching the latest advice on accessibility standards, and working with organizations to better understand how your business can improve. They should also be performing manual tests of your website to identify issues that automated systems may have missed.
Web accessibility is a vital tool in ensuring that the internet is an inclusive space for everyone. Your business must take time to apply design features that are welcoming to all users, and compatible with assistive technology. By committing to regular checks and improvements, you can make certain your website is a positive contributor to our global community.