Every website wants to attract as much traffic as possible however, few integrate the changes necessary to make their website accessible to all users. There are millions of users who rely on websites being accessible in order to interact with businesses’ products or services.
Thankfully, there are some straight forward implementations that can make your website more accessible to these users, through understanding the needs of people with disabilities and impairments, we can begin to understand how our design and development techniques can be tailored to accommodate these users.
What is accessibility
The core concept of accessibility in regards to websites is that, ideally, everyone should be able to use your website, regardless of the browser they use, hardware they have, or their own capabilities. Sadly, the latter is often overlooked.
For example, there is a huge importance placed on responsiveness, so that people can use your website on a wide spectrum of devices. It is a core part of design and development from conceptualization to deployment. Too often we don’t place the same importance on how accessible your website is to people with impairments or disabilities, even though according to the WHO 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability.
Not only should you be considering this 15% of the world when you are creating a website, but it’s actually the law! In 2019, the European Accessibility Act became law. This law was designed to ensure that people with disabilities can access public and private online facilities, much like having wheelchair access to buildings, your website should be accessible to people with disabilities.
In this article, we will explore the difficulties people with disabilities face when using online platforms, the tools available to help them interact with online platforms, how you can make changes to increase the accessibility of your website & the benefits that come from it.
What kind of disabilities should we be aware of in web design?
While there are a lot of disabilities that can affect how users interact with websites, there are some common ones that should be considered when designing your website:
- Visual impairment can range from struggling to read small text, to complete blindness. This spectrum also applies to color perception. It’s important to consider this range when designing your website as different tools are needed to assist users. Having your text large, clear, and highly contrasted will make your website mostly accessible to visually impaired users, while some users may need text-to-speech technology.
Some websites don’t optimize for zooming in, and content becomes unreadable, shifted, or simply the same size. I often have to take screenshots and zoom in on them just to read stuff!
— Sophie, Medical Physicist with visual impairment
- Hearing: the design and content of your website will determine how accessible it is to people with hearing impairments. A lot of websites rely on visual aspects to portray information, but some use sound. This is particularly apparent with video content, it’s important to have video content with volume control, captioning and subtitles, to make it accessible to these users.
- Cognitive disabilities are complicated to account for, but the most effective way of making your website accessible to these users is through intuitive design. These designs should be concise, clear, and obvious. Buttons should look like buttons, menus like menus, and each should be clearly labeled. The idea behind designing a website to accommodate cognitively impaired users is to structure it in a way that doesn’t need much thinking or intuition to use. It’s important to consider navigation paths also, we all make mistakes when using websites, some more than others. To have a clear pathway to go back a step is important to all users but especially ones with cognitive disabilities.
- Motor skills: some users may have motor skills impairments. This can make using precise movements such as using a mouse, extremely difficult. It’s important to design your website in a way in which it can be used solely with keyboard controls and to consider the size of clickable elements.
- Photosensitivity: users can have a sensitivity to flashing and harsh colors. It’s important to consider this when adding content to your website such as videos. You can avoid saturated red colors and slow down videos to keep flashing within the recommended threshold. Some websites allow users to set their own custom flash rate limit.
It’s important to thoroughly understand these disabilities in order to make your website as accessible as possible. You may not make your website accessible to everyone but through intuitive design, understanding the difficulties these people face, and having empathy for them, you can make great strides towards making your website as accessible as possible.
Sophie, Medical Physicist with visual impairment, adds: “there are apps and tools that you can download on your computer which support accessibility of websites, but often they are expensive and clunky, so I tend not to use them”.
Testing your website’s accessibility
There are many online tools that can test the accessibility of your website. The main purpose of these tools is to portray the difficulties faced by people with impairments so that you can see 1st hand the problems that exist while trying to interact with a website. These tools should coincide with your testing phase, to ensure your website is accessible at the time of deployment.
A11Y testing tool
The A11Y testing platform allows you to check your website’s accessibility against the guidelines of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. It provides tools, reports, and services to ensure your website complies with EU accessibility laws.
Text to speech
There is a range of text to speech tools that are commonly used by visually impaired users. The best way to test your website for these tools is to use them yourself. Although written content may read well, sometimes it can get picked up differently by text to speech tools. Use these tools, put yourself in your impaired users’ shoes and ensure it works well for them. Here are some of the more commonly used text to speech tools: Amazon’s Polly, Announcify & Natural Readers.
Choosing your contrasting colors is one of the best ways to ensure your content is readable to visually impaired users. One of the most common tools for this is the Chrome extension NoCoffee. This tool allows you to experience what visually impaired users experience, highlighting the issues they face when using your website.
Chrome Lens is an extension that has multiple tools for auditing your website’s accessibility, most notably the tab tracker. This tool crawls through your website, analyzing how well it can be navigated with keyboard controls alone. This is a great way to evaluate how accessible your website is to users with motor skill disabilities.
Alt text on images
Adding an alt text to your images will provide visually impaired users with a text alternative to the image, that can be picked up by text-to-speech software and relayed to the user. Images tend to be a huge part of website content. Using alt text means you can deliver your website’s visual content to people who struggle with sight, like reading a book, a short description can form visual representations in a reader’s mind.
Tools like Magnifying Glass are commonly used by people with visual impairments. It’s important while testing your website that you use these same tools, to experience what your visually impaired users experience, providing valuable insight into how accessible your platform is.
Wikipedia is a great example of a site that has done accessibility right. They have described their actions and guidelines on a dedicated page.
— Sophie, Medical Physicist with visual impairment
Benefits of having your website accessible
“Everyone should benefit from the opportunities offered by the internet and fully participate in the digital society.” – Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission.
This sums it up perfectly, to be inclusive is a moral duty and should be taken seriously by all owners of online platforms. In the current climate, it’s never been more important to be inclusive of people who struggle with disabilities.
According to the WHO, 15% of the world’s population suffer from some form of disability. If your website is not accessible then you are not reaching this group of people. This becomes particularly valid when you see the increase in online interactions and e-commerce this past year.
It’s the law!
The EU has worked to conduct guidelines and laws to align its member states with certain guidelines to improve accessibility to people with disabilities. This process has 3 steps:
- On September 23, 2019, all new public sector websites and apps were required to conform to the directive
- By September 23, 2020, all new and existing public website must conform to the directive
- By June 23, 2021, all new and existing mobile apps must conform to the directive
These laws are primarily focused on public service websites for obvious reasons so that people with disabilities can use public services such as healthcare, transport, and education. This is moving in the direction of being applied to all platforms, including operating systems, mobile apps, websites, even kitchen appliances, and vehicles. It’s important for your business to stay ahead of these new introductions and comply with accessibility guidelines.
The recent expansion of remote working and the increased use of online platforms further demonstrates the necessity to make websites accessible. In the Netherlands alone, there are 800,000 people who are unable to use a screen or mouse.
By not having your website accessible, you are excluding a significant number of users from interacting with your website and enjoying your product or service. Technology and online platforms have provided us with many opportunities, opportunities that should be made available to all.