An accessible website is not an optional extra; website accessibility should be central to every website and every web design project. Why is accessibility important for a website?

No responsible architect or construction firm would erect a building today without considering accessibility. Wheelchair access is the obvious example of an important provision which was once overlooked but is now de rigeur. Similarly, web design has in the last decade learned a similar lesson. Websites are at their best when they are at their most accessible. Web accessibility is an expectation, not an extra.

Meeting The Requirements

Don’t take our word for it – listen to the government. All public sector websites and apps are requite to abide by a set of web accessibility regulations which lay down specific and extensive requirements on designers and developers. “People may not have a choice when using a public sector website or mobile app, so it’s important they work for everyone,” the guidelines explain. “The people who need them the most are often the people who find them hardest to use.”

The same is just as true for private sector websites and apps, which could do worse than adopt the public sector guidelines as good practice. Certainly they are subject to the same requirements under the Equality Act 2010, which stipulates that businesses cannot discriminate against disabled people. Failing to ensure your website can be accessed, ready and used fully by everyone counts as discrimination.

Why Make Websites Accessible?

From ensuring video and audio is accessible for people who can’t see or hear them to reducing colour and volume contrast and unnecessary fast flashing, a designer’s job is to anticipate accessibility issues and mitigate for them. Web accessibility is about making content as usable as possible, about ensuring that no user – no customer – is left behind. This makes good business sense as much as it does good ethical sense. 

As the government notes, one in five people in the UK have a long-term illness, impairment of disability. That’s a lot of people your site can leave behind. Whether it’s allowing for screen readers, permitting text size to be altered by the user to suit them, or ensuring compatibility with speech recognition software or on-screen keyboards, web accessibility is important because it caters for twenty percent of your total potential audience. Of course, for some sites that proportion will be even greater!

So that’s why accessibility is important. The  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines are the place to start in achieving it. To conform fully with these industry-standard web accessibility guidelines, designers and developers will need to consider every HTML page, every PDF and Word document, all the audio and video on their site, and any games or maps.

5 Key Ways To Achieve Web Accessibility

In other words, achieving full web accessibility requires a full-spectrum approach – which is why it is crucial to embed accessibility as part of your design standards. At ImagePlus, accessibility isn’t something we do to a site – it’s how we build them from day one. Let’s look at some of the key ways we achieve this.

1. Alt Text For Images

This is accessibility 101. All those images you’ve slaved over, chosen carefully and feel real pride about? Not everyone can see them. Use the alt tag value for every image you have, and insert a clear description of what the images depicts – a user’s dictation software will be able to read the tag and they will be experiencing every element of your site. 

2. Video Captions and Transcripts

Video content, of course, poses a similar question for designers: how to ensure that those who can’t see or view, hear or play, can still get the necessary benefit from the content? Captions and transcripts are the solution: on-screen words for those playing the video, and a full-page script of the contents for those who cannot or don’t wish to. All the content, fully described – job done.

3. Keyboard Navigation

Not everyone uses a mouse. The way various assistive technologies work means that designers who don’t make keyboard navigation of their sites possible are failing to meet their web accessibility goals. From find subpages to selecting links, the Tab key should be a user’s friend: it should allow them to jump around content as they wish, easily and smoothly.

4. Headings

Structuring content is key, especially if you have a lot of it, and Headings – H1, H2, H3 and so forth tags – are the way to do it. Breaking up your copy in this way makes it easier to read – and simpler to navigate. This helps everyone, in all honesty, but it is of particular help to screen readers and other devices understand how your page is structured and guide their users through it effectively. Set a reading hierarchy – one H1 tag and then H2s and H3s for nested subsections – and stick to it.

5. Proper Colour Contrast

A low-contrast design is a nightmare for most people, but for some of your users they will simply make a site unusable. There’s a reason that white-on-black has been the printing default for centuries; don’t put pale pink text on a mid-red background, it’s simply not helpful. Use online tools like Contrast Checker to make sure your chosen colours work well for people – and allow your content to be distinguished from background noise.

Ask The Key Questions

As well as these basics, designers also need to pay close attention to each of their websites and ensure that they have every base covered – since every site is different, a separate set accessibility strategies will need to be adopted each time.
Are your forms well designed? Is every image tagged? Is all your content accessible to everyone? Is every bit of audio transcribed, every video captioned? Ultimately, web accessibility is relatively simple to achieve with a little awareness – it isn’t rocket science, and it should be standard practice. Be aware – that’s how to do web accessibility. And do it so all your users can access the content you’ve worked so hard on – that’s why web accessibility is so important.

Need more expert advice about accessibility and making sure your website performs as well as it should? We’d love to find out more about your business so please get in touch.

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