The concept of web accessibility is not new. Since the 90s, there have been initiatives to make the www available to all. And it means literally to all, including the people with various impairments, level of disabilities, and special needs. It doesn’t take too much work to design and make your website more accessible following specific guidelines. While it is possible to edit an existing website, it’s much easier to apply the following features during the design phase. Unfortunately, in a rush to launch the site as soon as possible, these features are often omitted.
Why should you take these elements into account? Making your site accessible will benefit you directly. At the same time, you expand your visitor base and make your website more flexible and easier to navigate. It all results in higher rankings and better visibility, followed by ever-growing organic traffic. Apart from being considerate, you are investing in the future of your online presence and rising above your competition.
Support accessibility by choosing the right content management system
Choosing the right Content Management System or CMS is the basis you can build upon. Elements supporting better accessibility can be implemented in many such systems (such as Joomla!, Drupal, or Magento), but the one that stands out is WordPress. In essence, a good CMS should:
- provide an accessible theme, template, and layout options
- allow the creation of accessible content
- support accessible widgets and plugins.
If you’re implementing a custom-made CMS, make sure it supports the accessibility elements.
Implement keyboard-only navigation
Keyboard-only navigation is at the core of many assistive technologies, which means that your site should provide easy and straightforward keyboard navigation. The “tab” key, among other input devices, helps to access sections on the web page with specific keyboard focus, such as links or buttons. It is essential to make the navigation via the “tab” key logical and fast.
Add alt text to make your website more accessible.
You certainly know by now that SEO requires different approaches to bring the best out of itself, which is why it sometimes intertwines with accessibility features. The most obvious example you can see in the application of the alternative text. Alternative text, also alt text or alt tag, conveys the message of an image one can’t view either due to visual impairment or its inability to load. Adding alt text to your images makes them visible to search engine crawlers, too, strengthening your SEO efforts in the process.
Tweak your key content elements
You can improve the accessibility of your most important content elements in several ways:
- Add closed and/or open captions and transcripts for your embedded videos. While a user can turn closed captions on and off, open captions are a part of the video and not user-friendly. Transcripts, however, help persons who are blind and deaf interact with your content.
- Create descriptive and unique link anchors. Knowing exactly where the link leads or what kind of information it provides at its end is helpful not only to the visually impaired but to sighted users and search engine bots, too.
- Properly position and label all form fields. If it’s not done correctly, there is no way a visually impaired user can recognize what kind of data they should enter into the field.
- Use tables only when necessary to present tabular data. Tables are often too complicated and can easily confuse the screen reader users. If there’s no other way to show your data, use table captions or headers to explain cell relationships better.
Choose the right colors and color contrasts.
Perception of colors varies greatly, and what we call color blindness actually encompasses a vast range of limitations to perceive colors. But it’s not only for the visually impaired that you should focus on your text and background colors. Specific colors tend to bleed into each other, making their combination extremely difficult and wearying to observe. If you wish to make the website accessible to everybody, it is imperative to choose your color theme and color contrasts wisely. Ideally, the hue and saturation of the colors in the palette you select for your website must not be too similar. Well-chosen text color will make your content stand out and easy to distinguish from the background.
Use the correct header structure.
Organizing your content structure correctly and logically enables screen reader users to navigate your website and interpret your content easily. Correct set-up of header structure should be another part of the website design process and rests on two simple principles. The first implies you should use only one first-level heading per page, and you reserve it for the page title. Alternatively, the website title can also fall under the H1 heading. The other rule is never to skip a heading level. If there’s a need for more headings, you should always nest the lower-level within the higher-level ones without discontinuing their hierarchy.
Make content easily accessible to all.
Many websites nowadays use dynamic content to provide the most accurate, up-to-date information to their audience. The irony is that this vital information is often inaccessible to visually impaired visitors even if they use assistive technologies. Significant effort has been made to overcome the obstacle dynamic content presents. Although there’s still a lot of room for improvement, the solution might lie in WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications). It defines and creates a way to let the screen reader know when a change occurs on a page. This is vital because screen readers are not aware of information updates if the page doesn’t refresh.
A few extra notes
If you’re intent on incorporating accessibility features into your website while you design it, take time to study the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) before you start. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the guidelines through its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). While these standards can’t be enforced as laws can, they are adopted by governments with well-developed accessibility policies.
In other words, these guidelines are something like ISO standards in the world of website accessibility. Even if your country hasn’t incorporated the WCAG into its legislature, you can profit from applying it. Remember that if you make your website more accessible, it will benefitnot only you but also most of your new visitors.