Everything You Need to Know About Creating an Accessible Website
Website accessibility for all is no longer just a flashy benefit – it’s an absolute necessity in running any sort of online platform these days.
Physical businesses are required to include features that make their stores accessible to all customers. For example, there must be a wheelchair ramp leading to the entrance as well as an accessible bathroom. Important directional signs must include braille for visually impaired guests, and some doors include automatic opening options for those with mobility aids.
These regulations have been put into place by the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to make businesses and buildings more accessible for everyone.
But did you know that websites have their own set of regulations for accessibility, too? And failing to adhere to them could cut you off from a large audience segment and even hurt your search rankings and traffic rates?
That’s right – website accessibility is more important than ever, considering that nearly 20% of the American population experience some form of disability. Unfortunately, the internet is not a very friendly place for disabled users. According to Pew Research Center’s report, disabled Americans are far less likely to use the internet than the average person due to the lack of accessibility.
By failing to create an accessible website for your business, you could be missing out on high-value sales opportunities with this audience. So, here are some things to note in order to create a more accessible site that can be used by all of your customers.
1. Legal Requirements
First, it is important to understand the legal requirements that have been put into place to encourage accessibility. Currently, the only enforceable legal standards put into place for website accessibility are for federal and government agencies and the department of justice in the US are under Section 508 and the ADA. In the US, businesses have to be fully Section 508 compliant to avoid lawsuits. Legislation are starting to pick up rapidly in other countries as well.
Moreover, the World Wide Web Consortium (known as W3C) has set standards for universally accepted protocols of website accessibility, called WCAG. While these are not federally enforced, numerous companies - including Domino’s Pizza and Winn-Dixie Grocers - have lost major lawsuits for failing to bring their websites up to WCAG standards.
According to WCAG, websites should follow set regulations for certain aspects of their website, including:
- Text alternatives and non-text content
- Time-based media (audio only, captions, audio description, or media alternatives)
- Distinguishable contrast
- Keyboard accessibility for navigation
- Input modalities and compatibility
These aspects ensure that users with visual, mobile, auditory, or mental disabilities can still interact with your website and access all of its features.
2. It Can Help Improve the User Experience
All web designers know that the user experience (UX) plays a critical role in any website – and failing to provide accessibility for all users can put a major kink in the UX. But offering these types of features not only improves the experience for disabled visitors, but for every customer that interacts with your site.
To reiterate, one major component of website accessibility is including text descriptions for audio and visual media, like images and videos for users with auditory impairments. So, including closed captioning and detailed image descriptions would help to greatly improve a site’s accessibility. Sites may also offer options to increase text size for visually impaired users.
But these features can help improve the overall UX as well. Say that a visitor is perusing your website in an environment where they cannot play a video out loud. By turning on the closed captioning, they can still consume that content. Additionally, adding text size options can make a site easier to navigate for a visitor using a small mobile device or for one who simply forgot their glasses.
3. Start with the Meaningful Details
In order to jumpstart the process of creating a more accessible website, it is important to start with the meaningful details and features. While they are certainly time-consuming and a bit tedious, they will make the greatest impact on the accessibility of your site.
For example, a great place to start is with the color scheme. Users with visual disabilities such as colorblindness or partial blindness may not be able to read or see low contrast text and images. WCAG recommends at least a 4:5:1 contrast for all images and text.
You can see an example of low contrast here:
This could be quite difficult for users with colorblindness or impaired vision to read, so it is best to increase the contrast between colors. You can use a Contrast Checker tool to see how your site currently ranks.
Other important details to focus on include writing descriptive tags for images and graphics, closed captioning for videos, and better navigational layout – of which are compatible with accessibility tools like keyboards or voice-activated systems.
4. Use Both Automated and Human Testing
As with any website design changes, it is important to test your site thoroughly before launching to work out any kinks or optimize variations.
Automated tools are great to use because they can pinpoint issues with coding right away and help you correct any problems. Plus, there are some automated testing systems built specifically for accessibility optimiSation.
Tenon.io will automatically test your website’s code during development and identifies defects specifically related to WCAG’s regulations. AXE Developer Tools from Dequeue Systems is a plugin available for Chrome and Firefox that finds accessibility issues and offers suggestions for correction with automation in mind.
And, of course, be sure to check out your accessibility changes with human testing to ensure that you are truly providing the best UX. Be sure to focus on important features, such as navigability and user-friendliness, as well as aspects that automated tools can’t test for – like overall appearance and flow.
Here's one platform gaining popularity for this purpose.
By making even the smallest changes towards accessibility, you can protect your website from the danger of excluding disabled visitors or even getting involved in a lawsuit for failure to comply with WCAG’s regulations. Further, you can reach wider audiences and grow your conversion rates.
There is no reason why any visitor should be excluded from your company’s site if you intend to grow your business. Website accessibility is important for many reasons, but it is imperative for creating the ultimate UX.