An introduction to website accessibility
Web, by its very nature, is designed to be accessible universally, regardless of any geography, physical or cognitive abilities, financial status, and so on. Therefore, to justify the cause of the existence of the Internet, it's crucial to make websites, products, and applications web-accessible. Website accessibility refers to making websites usable by people with disabilities. All people must be able to interact with and contribute to your website to make it truly accessible.
Why is website accessibility important?
75 % of adults in the USA that identify as disabled use the Internet daily. These disabilities range from visual, speech, auditory, mobility, cognitive, or neurological.
Website accessibility ensures that your website is usable for people who identify with these disabilities. But also people with temporary disabilities like a broken arm or situational challenges like slow network connections.
Here are the three main reasons why website accessibility matters -
- For more reach-
With 1 billion people on the planet identifying as disabled, making your website accessible is the only way to reach these individuals. And why only differently-abled, as discussed above, many people face temporary disabilities due to medical conditions or aging.
Moreover, differently-abled people, their families, and advocates can contribute around $13 trillion as annual disposable income, as indicated by a 2020 study. Accessibility also makes a strong business case.
- For compliance -
Websites must comply with many international compliance standards like WCAG 2.0 and ISO/IEC 40500 to avoid lawsuits. Additionally, national legal requirements like the American Disabilities Act in the USA or EN301549 in Sweden. Many nations require websites to comply with different levels of WCAG guidelines among A, AA, and AAA.
- Ethical reasons -
Companies have the moral binding to include all possible use cases for their websites. It would be unethical to ignore a user base that wants to interact with its brand or buy its offerings online. Websites must be accessible for the same reason why public transit or public buildings must be accessible.
Finally, the Internet plays an increasingly important role in people's daily life, and we must not deprive people of its benefits and comforts. From online shopping to entertainment, all websites can benefit from accessibility optimization. Accessibility requirements overlap with improved user experience in general for all users.
Top picks for website accessibility
There are 100s of parameters that act as a guideline for designing more accessible websites. Here are some essential web accessibility guidelines that you cannot afford to ignore in 2023 -
- Alternative text for images:
Ensure that all images on the website have alternative text that describes the image's content. You can also describe the image in the adjoining paragraph if the image serves educational purposes. In this way, visually impaired people will not miss out on any information.
- Keyboard navigation:
Make sure that all functionality on the website can be accessed using a keyboard so that users who cannot use a mouse can still navigate the site. In addition, users using screen readers and voice recognition also rely on Keyboard navigation. Keyboard navigation comprises accessing the website with TAB, space bar, Enter, and Arrow keys.
Differently-abled individuals must be able to see the visible focus to guide their navigation by highlighting or underlining text. Additionally, website designers must stress getting the TAB order right for intuitive navigation.
- Resizable text:
Allow users to resize the website's text without losing the layout's integrity. This helps people with weak eyesight or reading difficulties to better understand or navigate the content on the page without throwing off the user experience. Additionally, people using mobile devices or challenged physically can find it difficult to select a small text or input area.
- Proper semantic HTML:
Use correct and meaningful HTML tags, such as headings, paragraphs, lists, etc., to define the structure of the content on the website clearly. Using non-semantic elements like div or span give no clue to the screen readers what kind of content they are reading. Semantic HTML tags ensure screen readers can make content logically coherent for visually impaired users.
- Proper color contrast:
Ensure enough color contrast between text and background to make it legible for low-vision users. In addition, people in external settings or non-ambient light will also be able to better judge the content and navigation.
- ARIA roles:
Use ARIA roles to provide additional information about the website's structure and elements for assistive technologies. They are useful for non-semantic elements like div by assigning attribute roles. The ARIA roles belong to six different categories and serve a distinct purposes. For instance, Live region roles describe the dynamic content on the page for non-sighted users. For example, a timer is visible to sighted users, but non-sighted users will need assistive technology to read the ARIA role of the timer to gauge the timer's presence.
- Closed captioning for videos:
Provide closed captions or subtitles for videos on the website. The closed caption will help people with Auditory challenges. Plus, captions can help people watch videos in a loud environment or not disturb others when in quiet surroundings.
- Skip Navigation:
Provide a way for users to skip repetitive navigation links and go directly to the page's main content. This provision especially matters to people using assistive technologies like screen readers. The screen readers read a page from top to bottom and will have to navigate through many invaluable contents.
- Form labels and input cues:
Ensure that all form elements have associated labels so that users who rely on screen readers can understand the purpose of the form fields. Additionally, you must also include cues for more complex input requirements. For instance, showing an error code that isn't helpful makes it challenging for people with learning disabilities.
- Well-organized content:
Use headings, lists, and other elements to organize the website's content logically and easily. People with learning disabilities may find it confusing or disorienting to process all the scattered information. People with visual impairment, leaning on assistive technologies, may also find navigating such poorly designed websites difficult.
It is worth noting that website accessibility optimization is an ongoing process. While there are many other parameters to consider, these are the most important and common ones. Consider going through our website accessibility checklist to know more.
If you’re looking for a website accessibility checker tool, try Optomate. The tool tests for website accessibility against 100s of parameters. It will help you in optimizing your website for accessibility and enhance user experience and avoid lawsuits.