Summary (TL;DR): In this article, we define website accessibility and its importance. We discuss accessibility standards like WCAG and ADA, and guide you through conducting an accessibility audit. We share examples of accessible websites, useful tools, and best practices. We highlight common mistakes to avoid and the impact of website accessibility on business success, including wider audience reach and improved user experience.
Website accessibility is about creating an online environment where everyone, including people with disabilities, can fully engage and interact. It's a commitment to inclusivity that ensures your website's content, design, and functionality are accessible to all users.
This article will serve as your guide to understanding website accessibility, from the basics to best practices. We'll delve into the importance of accessibility, the principles of accessible design, and provide actionable strategies to make your website more accessible.
Let’s get started.
What Is Website Accessibility?
Website accessibility is a crucial aspect of web design and development that often goes unnoticed. Yet, it plays a significant role in creating an inclusive digital environment that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can navigate and interact with.
Definition of Website Accessibility
Website accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites, tools, and technologies so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web, and they can contribute to the web.
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities.
The Importance of Website Accessibility
Website accessibility is not just a matter of social responsibility or compliance with legal requirements — it's also a way to reach a broader audience and improve overall user experience.
Firstly, by making your website accessible, you ensure that all potential users, including people with disabilities and older people with changing abilities due to aging, can access and use your website effectively. This inclusivity can expand your audience and customer base.
Secondly, many of the practices used to improve website accessibility also enhance overall user experience and SEO. For example, clear navigation, legible fonts, and meaningful alt text improve the site for all users and can help search engines understand your content.
Lastly, in many regions, website accessibility is a legal requirement. Non-compliance can lead to legal issues and damage to the company's reputation. Therefore, understanding and implementing website accessibility is crucial for any business operating online.
The Basics of Website Accessibility
Website accessibility is a broad field with many facets. To ensure that a website is accessible, it's essential to understand the standards that guide accessibility and the key elements that make a website accessible.
Understanding Accessibility Standards (WCAG, ADA)
There are several standards and guidelines for website accessibility, the most notable being the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The WCAG is a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. The guidelines are organized around four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR). Each principle has specific guidelines and success criteria.
The ADA, on the other hand, is a U.S. law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. While the ADA doesn't specifically mention websites, court rulings and the Department of Justice have interpreted Title III of the ADA to apply to websites, making them legally required to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Key Elements of an Accessible Website
An accessible website should consider various aspects to cater to different types of disabilities. Here are some key elements:
- Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images, audio, and video. This can be done through alt text, transcripts, and captions.
- Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure that all functionality is available from a keyboard for people who can't use a mouse or touch screen.
- Consistent Navigation: Keep navigation consistent throughout the website. This helps people with cognitive disabilities or those who rely on screen readers.
- Color and Contrast: Use sufficient color contrast to make text readable for people with low vision or color blindness. Also, don't use color as the only way to convey information.
- Readable Text: Use legible fonts and ensure that text can be resized without losing information.
- Accessible Forms: Make forms accessible by providing descriptive labels and instructions, error messages, and ensure they are keyboard accessible.
Avoidance of Seizure-Inducing Content: Avoid designing content in a way that is known to cause seizures, like flashing lights at certain frequencies.
Steps to Make Your Website Accessible
Creating an accessible website is not just a one-time task, but an ongoing commitment. Here are some steps to help you make your website accessible to all users.
Conducting an Accessibility Audit
The first step in making your website accessible is to conduct an accessibility audit. This involves evaluating your current website to identify areas that may pose challenges for users with disabilities.
You can do this manually by going through your website and checking each element against accessibility guidelines like WCAG. Alternatively, you can use automated tools that scan your website and generate a report of accessibility issues.
However, keep in mind that automated tools may not catch all issues, so a combination of manual and automated testing is often the best approach.
Making Your Website Perceivable
To make your website perceivable, you need to ensure that all users can perceive the information on your website, regardless of how they access it.
- Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as images, audio, and video. This can be done through alt text, transcripts, and captions.
- Captions: Provide captions for videos with audio. Captions are not just for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, they can also help users who are watching videos in a noisy environment or who have cognitive disabilities that affect auditory processing.
Ensuring Website Operability
Your website should be fully operable through a keyboard, and users should have enough time to read and use the content.
- Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure that all functionality is available from a keyboard. This is crucial for people who can't use a mouse or touch screen.
- Enough Time: Give users enough time to read and use content. If your website has time-limited content, provide options to turn off, adjust, or extend the time limit.
Making Your Website Understandable
An accessible website is also an understandable website. This means your website's content and navigation should be easy to understand.
- Readable Text: Use clear fonts and ensure that text can be resized up to 200% without losing information. Avoid using jargon or complex language.
- Predictable Web Pages: Keep the navigation and layout consistent throughout the website. This helps users know where they are and where to go next.
Creating Robust Content
Finally, your website should be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Compatibility: Ensure your website works well with current and future user tools. Use standard HTML and avoid deprecated elements. Validate your HTML to check for errors.
Examples of Accessible Websites
- 1% for the Planet: This website is a network of businesses and organizations that donate 1% of their profits to environmental causes. It features high-contrasting text, ARIA tags, and thorough HTML page structuring.
- BBC: The BBC website is a top-notch example for accessible news websites. It has excellent keyboard navigation and an "Accessibility Help" option that links to a page of useful links.
- Built By Silo: This web design and development agency's website is both stylish and accessible. It features easily tabbable pages which let users jump from navigational links to projects to contact information.
- Eventbrite: Eventbrite's website is highly accessible, with clean layouts and the option to "Skip to the content" of each page.
- ACLU: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website uses structural elements such as heading tags, list elements, navigational elements, and header and footer elements. ARIA tags are present as well to provide enhanced meaning to the HTML.
- Partake Foods: This website is highly accessible, with an accessibility toggle in the bottom right corner where you can adjust key elements such as text and cursor size, line height, hide images, stop animations, and even choose more readable fonts.
- Patagonia: Patagonia's website is well-structured, with ARIA tags, well-coded forms, high-contrasting text, and images with adequate alternative text. It also features an accessibility statement on the footer.
- Girls Who Code: This website presents only the most relevant information on its pages without cluttering, which makes the content usable for anyone.
- Mysa Skincare: Mysa Skincare's website is adorned with high-contrast colors, especially with the text, images with alternative text, ARIA markers, and elements utilizing the appropriate labels.
- Patreon: Patreon's website takes a straightforward approach with its design, emphasizing the text and image content to make the platform's value clear to first-time visitors, while adhering to HTML accessibility standards.
- World Wildlife Fund: The WWF website conveys its mission, initiatives, partnerships, and educational content in a way that is accessible. It includes the appropriate accessibility HTML tags and chooses semantic elements to structure its pages.
Tools for Improving Website Accessibility
Making your website accessible is a crucial part of inclusive web design. Thankfully, there are numerous tools available that can help you improve your website's accessibility.
These range from testing tools that can help you identify accessibility issues, to plugins and widgets that can enhance accessibility, to assistive technologies that can make your website more usable for people with disabilities.
Accessibility Testing Tools
Accessibility testing tools can help you identify and fix accessibility issues on your website. These tools can scan your website and provide a report of potential issues based on accessibility standards like WCAG.
Some popular accessibility testing tools include:
- WAVE: This is a free web accessibility evaluation tool that provides visual feedback about the accessibility of your web content by injecting icons and indicators into your page.
- Axe: This is an open-source rules library for accessibility testing. It works with other tools and testing frameworks to provide accessibility testing.
- Siteimprove: This is a paid tool that offers a comprehensive suite of website performance and accessibility testing features.
- accessScan: A free, fast tool for professional web accessibility audits, identifying ADA and WCAG compliance with immediate, detailed results. Powered by accessiBe's leading technology, it's designed for accuracy and full WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance.
Plugins and Widgets for Accessibility
Plugins and widgets can be added to your website to provide additional accessibility features. These can include text-to-speech functionality, keyboard navigation enhancements, and more.
Some popular options include:
- UserWay: This is a free widget that provides a set of web accessibility tools and features. It includes a screen reader, keyboard navigation, text spacing and contrast adjustments, and more.
- WP Accessibility Helper: This is a WordPress plugin that provides a number of features to improve accessibility, including a toolbar for font size and contrast adjustments, skip links, and more.
Assistive Technologies for Website Users
Assistive technologies are software or hardware devices that help people with disabilities use computers and the internet. These can include screen readers, speech recognition software, and special input devices like sip-and-puff systems or eye-tracking systems.
While these are typically used by the end-user, understanding how they work can help you design a more accessible website.
Some commonly used assistive technologies include:
- JAWS: This is a popular screen reader used by many people who are blind or visually impaired.
- NVDA: This is a free, open-source screen reader for Windows.
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking: This is a speech recognition software that can be used by people with mobility impairments.
Best Practices for Website Accessibility
Website accessibility is not a one-time effort but a continuous process of making sure your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Here are some best practices to ensure your website remains accessible.
Regular Accessibility Testing
Just like any other aspect of your website, accessibility should be tested regularly. This includes testing after any major updates or changes to your website. Regular testing helps identify any new accessibility issues that might have been introduced.
You can use automated accessibility testing tools for this purpose, but remember that these tools can't catch all issues. Manual testing is also important.
Involving Users with Disabilities in Testing
While automated tools and manual testing by developers or designers can catch many accessibility issues, there's no substitute for testing by actual users with disabilities. People who rely on assistive technologies to use the web can often identify issues that others might miss.
If possible, involve users with a range of disabilities in your testing process. This could involve formal usability testing sessions, or simply reaching out to your user community for feedback.
Keeping Up with Accessibility Standards and Guidelines
Web accessibility standards and guidelines, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), are regularly updated as technology and best practices evolve. It's important to keep up with these updates and regularly review your website against the latest standards.
This not only helps ensure your website remains accessible but can also help protect your organization from legal risk, as many countries have laws requiring websites to meet certain accessibility standards.
In addition to these practices, it's important to foster a culture of accessibility within your organization. Everyone involved in creating and maintaining your website, from writers and designers to developers and project managers, should understand the importance of accessibility and how to implement it. Accessibility should be an integral part of all your web projects, not an afterthought or a box to check.
Common Mistakes in Website Accessibility
Despite the best intentions, it's easy to make mistakes when it comes to website accessibility. Here are three common mistakes that can significantly impact the accessibility of your website.
Ignoring Keyboard Navigation
Many people navigate websites using only the keyboard, including those who use screen readers and people with physical disabilities that prevent them from using a mouse. If your website doesn't support keyboard navigation, or if it's difficult to use without a mouse, these users will struggle to access your content.
Make sure all interactive elements on your website can be reached and activated using the keyboard alone, and that the tab order makes sense.
Overlooking Alt Text for Images
Alt text is a short description that can be added to images on your website, which screen readers can read aloud to users with visual impairments. Without alt text, these users won't know what's in your images, whether they're important graphics or decorative elements.
Make sure to add meaningful alt text to all your images, except those that are purely decorative and don't add any information to the content of the page.
Neglecting Color Contrast
Good color contrast is essential for users with visual impairments, including color blindness and low vision. If your text color is too similar to your background color, these users may struggle to read your content.
There are many online tools available that can check the contrast of your colors to ensure they meet the minimum standards set by the WCAG. Remember, good contrast is not just good for accessibility, it also improves readability for all users.
The Impact of Website Accessibility on Business Success
Website accessibility is not just a matter of inclusivity and legal compliance—it can also have a significant impact on your business success. Here's how:
Wider Audience Reach
By making your website accessible, you're opening your business up to a wider audience. Millions of people worldwide live with disabilities that can affect how they use the internet.
If your website is accessible, you're able to reach these potential customers who might otherwise be unable to use your site. This can lead to an increase in traffic, conversions, and ultimately, revenue.
Improved User Experience
Accessibility features often overlap with general usability improvements. For example, clear navigation aids and readable text benefit all users, not just those with disabilities.
By focusing on accessibility, you can improve the overall user experience on your site, leading to higher user satisfaction, increased engagement, and better conversion rates.
Legal Compliance and Reduced Risk
In many regions, including the U.S. and the EU, businesses are legally required to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. By ensuring your website meets accessibility standards, you're not only complying with these laws, but you're also reducing the risk of legal action.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in lawsuits related to website accessibility, so compliance can save your business from costly legal fees and potential damage to your reputation.
In conclusion, website accessibility is a crucial aspect of web design that promotes inclusivity and ensures that everyone can access and interact with your website. It's about creating a digital space that is not only user-friendly but also accessible to people with various abilities.
Remember, an accessible website is not just a legal obligation; it's a reflection of your commitment to inclusivity and equal access. With the insights and best practices shared in this article, you're now well-equipped to make your website more accessible. So, let's put these insights into action and create a digital space where everyone is welcome and can fully engage.