6 Ways To Improve Website Accessibility

Benefits and value of designing an accessible website for all users

Any website should be easy to use for every person. It shouldn't matter if a person is using assistive software or specific hardware to help them access a website. Websites should inherently be able to be accessed by anyone, no matter their ability or technology. This is the main facet behind web accessibility.

Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect [of the web]
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and Inventor of the World Wide Web

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is where websites, tools and features on the internet have been specifically designed and coded for people with disabilities. Accessible sites allow people with diverse ranges of hearing, movement, sight and cognitive abilities to engage with and utilise the internet easily, effectively and efficiently.

W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been developed in order to help guide designers and web developers to create websites that cater to all users. The WCAG is a set of guidelines and a scoring system that helps determine the levels of accessibility on a website or digital application and provides suggestions to increase inclusion for all.

Who can benefit from accessible web design?

15% of the world's population live with a type of disability, according to the World Health Organisation. That is 1.2 billion people who potentially struggle accessing content on the internet. When building out a digital experience, if all demographics are considered, a site will naturally be easier to use and will cater to a wider demographic of users. In turn prioritising features that will aid these groups will grow your potential user base, putting you ahead of competitors who do not focus on creating accessible products.

When building out a digital experience, if all demographics are considered, a site will naturally be easier to use and will cater to a wider demographic of users. In turn prioritising features that will aid these groups will grow your potential user base, putting you ahead of competitors who do not focus on creating accessible products.

By creating more accessible sites, a better user experience is created overall as web accessibility benefits a wide gamut of people. For example (but not limited to):

  • People with disabilities (including temporary challenges such as a broken arm, or situational limitations such as sensitivity to bright lights)
  • Mobile phone users, smartwatch wearers and other small-screened devices are able to make use of features curated for accessibility
  • An ageing population with changing needs
  • People with slow internet connections or limited bandwidth

How is my site affected by these groups?

The first step in creating accessible websites is understanding the underlying issues that make it difficult for certain people to use a website. The demographics discussed above have varying effects on a user's web experience and how they interact online. Some of the most common impacts are:

  • Visual impairment: any kind of vision loss, full or partial blindness (including colour)
  • Hearing impairment: any of kind auditory loss, a reduced ability to hear
  • Physical impairment: difficulties moving parts of the body or with fine motor skills
  • Cognitive disabilities: affecting brain functionality such as dementia and dyslexia

Many use assistive technologies to aid their impairment which can make the internet easier to use. These can include (but are not limited to) screen readers that read text aloud on a page, speech recognition software that converts voice to text and, specialised keyboards and mice to aid fine motor function.

By considering these groups, and designing for these specific interactions, it is possible to make your website desirable and hospitable for all users.

How can I make my site more accessible?

Consider web accessibility from the start. It is much easier to incorporate accessible features into designs from the beginning, rather than adapting existing content to become accessible (although it is always possible to improve accessibility!).

Focus on the following to begin with:

  1. Reading order

    Reading order and content structure directly feed into the accuracy of screen readers. By utilising correct and logical heading structures, assistive technologies are able to be used. All users will also appreciate a well thought out piece of content that is easily navigable and browseable.

  2. Colour contrast

    Colour contrast is important to allow users to read content and engage with a site. Check your colour contrast ratios to ensure users are able to read your text and pick up on highlights in your imagery. Aim for 7:1 contrast ratio for a rating of AAA WCAG 3.0 compliance to allow users to differentiate colours in the foreground and background. To put it into context, 1 in 12 men are colourblind.

  3. Visual indicators

    Visual indicators should be used when conveying information or identifying content, as users may not be able to differentiate colours. For example, ensure links are recognisable by using a different colour from the body text, as well as underlining or highlighting, or the addition of a checkmark next to green confirmation text will allow users to understand the interaction in context.

  4. Accessible font size

    Accessible font sizes create a legible site as users don't need to struggle to read your content. Body text standard practice is 16px, and it is recommended to never use fonts below 9px. If using a larger text size (above 18px), it is possible to use a lower colour contrast ratio and maintain a AAA rating.

  5. True text

    True text should be used rather than images of text as it allows site users to zoom, providing better clarity and a faster page load.

  6. Alt image text

    Alt image text allows users with a visual impairment or slow internet connection to read a description of the image. The description should be functional rather than a direct description. For example, a search icon could be described as a "magnifying glass", however, it would be better to label it as "search". If users have images turned off, or are using screen readers, the text can be readout. Every image should have appropriate alt image text applied.

Creating an accessible website benefits all users, not only those listed above. Many of the items implemented will improve overall usability and create a more future-proofed site. These points touch the surface for the deep dive that is web accessibility. There are many more points to focus on to curate and create a properly accessible website that allows everyone to engage with and interact on the world wide web.

Learn more about accessibility

We explore the "Top 6 Accessibility Tools for Sites that Work for Everyone" in our previous article here.

— Sami Hurwitz

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