by Alice Rooney
Jan 19, 2023
Web accessibility is a critical aspect of modern web design, yet it is often treated as an afterthought. The importance of accessible websites cannot be overstated, as they provide equal access to information and functionality for all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Creating accessible digital spaces is not only a legal requirement but also an ethical one, as it ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity to access the information and services provided by the website.
Accessible websites also provide a multitude of cross-channel benefits, including but not limited to, improving user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimisation (CRO), promoting brand loyalty, boosting search engine rankings and increasing revenue.
In this guide, we will explore the essential elements of web accessibility, how to implement them in your own website and the importance of ongoing accessibility testing.
What is digital accessibility?
When discussing web accessibility, it is vital to understand how the key principles of accessibility also apply to all digital spaces, such as mobile devices, apps, video content and electronic documents. .
The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, is the governing body that promotes ‘Web for All’ principles. W3C defines accessibility as:
“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web. Web accessibility also benefits others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging”
Although the definition of web accessibility focuses on the needs of users with disabilities, creating a useable digital space also benefits the global experience for able-bodied users alike.
Understanding the needs of users with disabilities
To start, it’s important to understand the different types of disabilities that can impact a user’s ability to navigate a website. These include visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments, among others.
However, disabilities can also be permanent, temporary or situational.
This means that everyone is likely to experience a disability at some point in their lifetime, and websites that don’t cater to all users may be missing out on conversions.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
Accessibility compliance is built on four core principles put forward by the W3C. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are designed to provide a standard for every stage of the online experience. They are updated regularly to ensure new laws and developments in technology are taken into account. The overall principles are as follows:
- Perceivable – this refers to the information or content on the page being presentable to the user. To perceive means the ability to take it in using your eyes or by using a screen reader.
- Operable – this means that all users should be able to navigate through your site and click on elements easily without facing any barriers.
- Understandable – this refers to how clear your website is to its visitors. From written content to graphic elements and website organisation, it’s important that your website can be easily understood.
- Robust – this final principle is about ensuring your website is easily interpreted by all visitors, including those using screen reader technology.
Adherence to the above can be achieved through implementing some of the below elements, as well as regularly reviewing and testing your content.
How to implement web accessibility on your site
Although implementing web accessibility to your site may seem complex, there are some simple ways to ensure that your website is compliant without compromising on brand messaging.
Decide on a clear and consistent navigational structure
This includes using clear and descriptive headings and labels, as well as providing clear and consistent navigation links throughout the website. Designers should ensure that the website’s structure is logical and easy to understand, with a clear hierarchy of information.
Provide alternative text for images
This ensures that users who are visually impaired can still understand the content of images on the site. This can be accomplished by using the ‘alt’ attribute for images in the HTML code.
Use proper colour contrast
This is important for users with visual impairments, as it ensures that text and other elements on the site are easy to read. The WCAG recommends a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.
Make sure your site can be navigated using only a keyboard
This is important for users who cannot use a mouse or other pointing device. This can be accomplished by ensuring that all interactive elements on the site have a ‘tabindex’ attribute and that they can be accessed and interacted with using only the keyboard.
Provide captions and transcripts for videos
This is important for users who are deaf or hard of hearing, as it ensures that they can still understand the content of videos on the site.
Digital accessibility testing tools
Ongoing testing of your website will ensure compliance with accessibility principles. This includes using automated tools to check for common accessibility issues, as well as manual testing to identify any issues that may not be caught by automated tools. Additionally, designers should involve users with disabilities in the testing process to ensure that the website is usable for all.
A full list of useful accessibility testing tools is available on the W3C website, where website owners can find something for all stages of the development process.
We have compiled a short list of some of our favourite testing tools from the directory:
- Colour contrast checker – this handy tool analyses the contrast of two colours on a website to ensure users with vision impairments can read the text clearly.
- Website validator – this tool checks for errors in a website’s coding language., giving it a score of ‘valid’ or ‘invalid’. A valid page is much more likely to be a legible and compliant page, but this checker needs to be paired with a UX audit to ensure on-site elements are user-friendly.
- Accessibility evaluation – a set of useful tools from WAVE that offers a mini audit of your site and compares the content to the WCAG guidelines.
Level up your website with accessibility compliance
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