Website accessibility isn’t always the first thing web designers and developers consider when building a site. But accessibility should be at the top of the list. The reason? Many people visiting a site will have some type of accessibility problem due to disability.
Websites need to be designed with everyone in mind, including those who face challenges using technology due to chronic health issues.
The goal of an accessible web is to make it easy for anyone to access a website online. No one should be barred from visiting a site due to their disabilities and conditions. However, many sites make it challenging for these people to access information and services.
There are millions of people in the world who have challenges due to disabilities, impairments and special needs. With accessible design, you can create a site that just about anyone is able to use.
While there are many disabilities and impairments that make it challenging for people on the web, here are some of the most common conditions that cause issues:
- Hearing impairment
- Visual impairment (includes partial or total blindness, colour blindness, etc.)
- Motor Skills/Physical disabilities: users have difficult moving their bodies and making precise movements
- Photosensitive seizures: conditions, such as epilepsy, that cause seizures triggered by flashing lights and other visual stimuli
- Cognitive disabilities: including dyslexia, dementia, among others
People with these types of impairments may use assistive technologies to help them get around on the Internet. Assistive technologies can include:
- Screen readers: these read the text on the screen out loud to the user
- Speech recognition software: converts speech to text
- Braille terminals
- Alternative keyboards: made for specific special needs
These tools make the web accessible to the vast majority of people. And as a web designer, you can make it easier for them by creating sites with accessibility in mind.
While it may seem difficult to accommodate so many different accessibility issues, with today’s designer tools, you can easily create a website that’s made for everyone. There are ways to create sites that are usable for everyone, without losing the functionality or usability for non-disabled site users.
Here are 10 ways you can make a more accessible website.
1). Use of Space
Whitespace, sometimes referred to as negative space, has long been used by web designers to help site visitors. Whitespace refers to the empty space left around page elements such as text, images, navigation, etc. While the space may not be the color “white,” it is space that’s intentionally left blank or clear of any marks.
Whitespace helps content to flow, makes the page easier to navigate, gives users’ eyes a rest, and even creates a path for users to follow. This purposely empty space keeps the page looking too cluttered or hard to read. It can also be a way to call attention to messages and CTAs.
Empty or blank space also helps users with accessibility issues to focus on the message. Those who have difficult paying attention, for instance, can more easily fix their attention on the text without “noisy” distractions. It’s also helpful to break paragraphs up into easily digested chunks.
2). Link Colors and Buttons
Links can sometimes be difficult to discern and identify for those who have visual difficulties such as color blindness. To help make links more apparent, it can be helpful to make the links bold and underlined, or underlined and in a different color.
Buttons have the same issues. To make sure site users can see buttons, make them large and easily apparent. And remember to make them clickable. If the buttons are understated and not clearly visible, users will completely miss them, and miss out on clicking to the information they may need or a service they’d like to buy.
One more note about buttons—be sure to make them large. This will help those people who have mobility issues and those who may have limited use of their hands. Making buttons bigger helps is a good way to help all your site users.
3). Drop Down Menus
While drop down menus can be a great way to organize your site, these design elements can sometimes cause problems for those who have mobility issues. For instance, if the drop down menu disappears before a site user can click on it, think of the frustration that person will feel, especially if they have to try over and over, only to fail.
If drop down menus are not easy to access, your site visitors will leave after a few tries. And you can bet they won’t be back.
Instead, create submenus that appear for longer times, or a submenu that appears permanently after clicking on the parent menu. This type of design will help users who need a longer time to get the mouse where they want it to go.
One more thought, if your drop down menus contain a small number of menu items, then you may want to think about removing the drop down menu completely. Then use an alternative navigation element to help users find the information they need.
4). Alt Tags
You’re probably familiar with alt tags as a web designer. Many designers have become a bit lazy when it comes to use alt tags with their images. Why? We tend to think alt tags aren’t really all that important. But this is exactly where accessible design can help others.
Who needs alt tags? People who use have visual issues or are completely blind rely on alt tags because they’re not able to see the images. Instead, these people may use screen readers who read the alt tag to convey the information in the image.
When adding an image to your site, it’s important to make sure the caption and alt tags match, and that they convey what is seen in the image. Then the screen readers and other technologies (including text-to-Braille hardware), will help visually impaired or blind users to understand the information in the image.
Another good point we sometimes forget—alt tags are also great for search engine optimisation. The alt tags should relate to the keywords you want to rank for on that specific page.
5). Use Plain English
When writing content, be sure to keep the English clear and plain. This will helps everyone, but especially those who have any type of learning impairment. It’s also helpful for site users who use screen readers, and even for those who use a translation device to access the web from their native tongue.
- To make text easy for these technologies:
- Use bold to identify key words
- Use meaningful subheadings
- Use bullet points to summarise content
- Include one main idea per paragraph
There are many other ways that you can make your site accessible. These are also easy to add to a website. And there are numerous plugins that can help make your site more accessible to everyone.
The goal is to keep your site easy to access, while improving the user experience for everyone.