Welcome to “The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility,” your comprehensive resource for creating inclusive and accessible websites that empower users of all abilities. In today’s digital age, the internet plays a vital role in our lives, connecting people, providing information, and facilitating transactions. However, without proper consideration for web accessibility, we risk excluding a significant portion of the population from fully participating in the online world.
Web accessibility encompasses the principles, techniques, and best practices that ensure websites and digital content are usable and perceivable by individuals with disabilities. It involves removing barriers and providing equal access to information, functionality, and interactive elements. By incorporating accessible design principles, developers and designers can make a positive impact, fostering inclusivity and enabling everyone to navigate, interact, and engage with web content independently.
The ultimate guide to web accessibility delves into the key aspects of web accessibility, equipping you with the knowledge and tools necessary to create websites that prioritize inclusivity and reach a broader audience. We will explore the fundamental principles of web accessibility, examine the various disabilities and challenges users may face, and offer practical techniques to address these issues effectively.
It also provides insights into the latest web accessibility tools available for organizations. Web accessibility guarantees a smooth user experience for all website visitors, regardless of their abilities. Regrettably, numerous websites fail to adhere to best practices and guidelines for web accessibility, resulting in a challenging experience for users with disabilities.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility is the practice of making websites usable for all visitors, including those with disabilities, impairments, and limitations. Web accessibility encompasses adhering to design principles that provide equal or similar experiences for individuals with limitations or difficulties. Accessibility is an important goal for websites, as it gives all users universal access to your content.
Who manages web accessibility on the internet?
The members of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) are in charge of web accessibility initiatives. They are responsible for publishing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and related content.
Why should you care about web accessibility?
Web accessibility makes your website — and the content on it — more user-friendly and easy-to-understand for all visitors. This includes those with disabilities and limitations such as:
- Low vision
- Learning disabilities
- Cognitive disabilities
Web accessibility is not an option, it is a must-have. By focusing on your website’s level of accessibility, you’ll enhance user experience (UX) for all your visitors, including those with disabilities. Also prioritizing web accessibility demonstrates your commitment to inclusivity. This demonstrates to your visitors, leads, and customers that you value and care about them as individuals, And in return, this type of investment will boost your brand loyalty and advocacy. Meeting web accessibility standards may sound like a good idea at this point — but is it required by law? Get all your queries answered in The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility!
How is web accessibility enforced?
To cut a long story short, there are no enforceable laws related to website accessibility unless you run a government website — in which case, you must abide by Section 508 guidelines. Nevertheless, the absence of a formal law mandating web accessibility does not guarantee immunity from lawsuits for your business. Numerous instances exist where prominent companies have faced legal action due to their non-compliant websites.
In fact, between 2017 and 2018, the number of federal web accessibility lawsuits increased by 181%. In the Gil v. Winn-Dixie decision, a court ruled that websites constitute “a service of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For businesses that have physical stores and websites, their websites are closely connected to their physical store locations. In other words, their websites are “gateways” to their physical stores. In other words, websites have to meet federal accessibility standards.
You can avoid legal trouble by making sure your website doesn’t prevent anyone from accessing any of the information you share. The simple way to do this is to abide by WCAG guidelines.
Web Accessibility Standards
The recent WCAG standards state four main principles to focus on when creating an accessible website. Let’s review the overall principles.
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable — User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable — Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- Robust — Content must be robust so that it can be interpreted by assistive technologies.
How to make your website accessible?
By now you might have realized that your website doesn’t quite meet WCAG standards. Or, perhaps you ran your site through an accessibility testing tool and didn’t come out with the best score.
Either way, the WCAG provides several specific guidelines for each of the four principles above that you can implement immediately. Let’s unpack these guidelines further, so you can come away with some action items to improve your site’s accessibility.
Perceivable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Offer text alternatives
All non-text items — including images, videos, and audio content — must have a text alternative. This helps non-sighted individuals to understand them. Image alt text is the most common approach to meet this guideline. You must include alt text for every non-decorative image on your website. For decorative images, include the alt attribute but leave it blank. This tells the screen reader that an image exists but can be ignored.
Offer alternative ways to consume time-based media
For audio content offer a full transcript of the recording. For video, use captions that are properly synced with the audio. Both of these help users with limited hearing capabilities.
Structure content in an adaptable way
Write your HTML files in such a way that the intended information and structure wouldn’t be lost. For example, use proper headings, ordered and unordered list elements, and bold and italic text to convey information.
Make your content is easy to see and hear
Use proper color contrast so that everyone, including those with color blindness, can read your content. They can also understand any visual information you want to convey. Additionally, users should be able to adjust any background audio on your site or halt audio playback altogether.
Operable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Ensure functionality via keyboard
There are users who don’t use a mouse or touchpad when they navigate your site. So, it’s important that all the features on your website can be accessed using only a keyboard. For instance, users should be able to jump between different elements on the page using the tab key. They must be able to “click” on the focused element using the enter/return key.
Provide ample time to engage with your website
Ensure that users can access and interact with the different types of content on your site without facing unreasonable time constraints. If there are any actions on your site that have time limits, users should have the option to extend or cancel them. This principle also applies to drop-down menus that are designed for accessibility: If a user moves away from the menu using the mouse, it is a good practice to have a time delay before the menu disappears.
Avoid blinking/flashing content
As per W3C guidelines, content that blinks or flashes more than three times in a second has the potential to cause seizures. It is recommended to avoid such content altogether. However, if it’s unavoidable for some reason, it is crucial to provide a warning.
Provide clear navigation to guide users
Use clear page title, meaningful links, a keyboard focus indicator, and proper headings to allow users to know where they are on your site, and locate clickable elements.
Understandable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Make text content readable
Consider your potential target audience when you draft your content. Make sure your readers, including those with disabilities, understand your writing. Avoid using complex jargon and regional slang whenever possible.
Structure your pages and site logically
When organizing the structure and navigation of your website, arrange your navigational links and pages in a manner that feels intuitive to visitors. This often involves placing navigation above the visible area of the page, commonly in the header (and footer).
Write helpful error messages
Nobody enjoys encountering an error message, so ensure to deliver a concise explanation of the error along with instructions to assist visitors in rectifying their mistakes.
Robust Web Accessibility Guidelines
Create HTML that can be parsed
Assistive technologies rely on a web page’s HTML file to convert its contents into a different format. Therefore, it’s crucial to write well-structured HTML code. In terms of accessibility, this involves using appropriate start and end tags, avoiding duplicate IDs across elements, and refraining from using duplicate attributes within the same HTML tag.
Now that you grasp the concept and significance of web accessibility, along with the guidelines, let’s explore some useful tools that can aid you in enhancing the accessibility of your website.
Web Accessibility Tools
There are a variety of web accessibility testing tools available today. W3C website shows a list of web accessibility tools for you to learn more about each tool and compare their features. We have highlighted a few options below to provide insight into the capabilities these accessibility tools have.
accessibilityCheck offers a thorough audit of digital documents in any format (PDF, Word, etc.,) using a cloud-based multi-document audit and compliance report module. The documents are assessed for accessibility compliance against PDF/UA standards and WCAG guidelines.
WAVE by WebAIM offers multiple tools to help you evaluate the accessibility of your website. They provide a visual representation of the areas on your website that could use improvement to be more accessible.
To begin, enter your site URL, and Wave will highlight which areas of your site don’t meet WCAG standards. You’ll also get a human audit and review of your website’s content.
DYNO Mapper by Indigo Design Company LLC is a sitemap generator — meaning it uses sitemaps to display the accessibility of your website after conducting content inventories and audits as well as keyword tracking.
The tool also integrates with Google Analytics to allow in-depth analyses with identifiable areas for accessibility improvement. Dyno Mapper will test all types of sites for you, including public, private, and online apps, so it scores points for its thoroughness.
SortSite by PowerMapper evaluates the accessibility of your website as a whole or specific web pages in just one click. The tool uses 1,200 different guidelines and standards to determine a site’s accessibility. Some of the main categories of accessibility SortSite reviews on your site include broken links, compatibility, SEO, privacy, web standards, and usability.
A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator
A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator by A11Y Company displays the color contrast issues on your website or web pages. In the tool, you can test by URL or a specific set of colors (by using their hex codes or locations on the color wheel). The tool shows ideas and recommendations for fixing color contrast errors to meet WCAG standards, wherever it detects them.
Web accessibility examples
What better illustration can be found than the organization responsible for establishing these accessibility standards? W3C exemplifies all the necessary components of an accessible website, such as meticulously organized HTML featuring explicit tags to indicate structure, optimal color contrast, straightforward language, and a prominent focus indicator for the currently selected page element.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC website, a government resource, prioritizes accessibility and provides information on how it meets and surpasses Section 508 accessibility standards. Visitors can also contact the website regarding web accessibility concerns. The site features user-friendly navigation options to cater to diverse needs and offers various content formats (written, audio, video) for visitors to access information according to their preferences.
The White House
Similar to the previously mentioned websites, The White House, being a government site, ensures an inclusive experience for all users. Upon landing on the homepage, users are presented with options to toggle high contrast and adjust text size. Alt text is also provided, ensuring accessibility for visually impaired users. Additionally, the accessibility statement page can be accessed at the bottom of the website to gather more information on accessibility features.
Designing Websites for Everyone
By ensuring your site is accessible, you’re simply doing the right thing for the people who matter most to your business — your visitors and customers. Be sure to use the tools listed above in the ultimate guide to web accessibility. And also review the examples we listed for inspiration when making your site accessible!
The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility has equipped you with the essential knowledge and practical techniques to create inclusive and accessible websites. By recognizing the importance of web accessibility and implementing the recommended practices, you have the power to make a significant impact on the online experiences of individuals with disabilities.
Remember that web accessibility is an ongoing journey. As technology evolves and new challenges arise, it is crucial to stay updated with the latest accessibility standards and best practices. Continuously testing and improving your website’s accessibility will enable you to address any barriers that may impede users with disabilities from fully engaging with your content.
By embracing “The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility,” you are not only complying with legal obligations but also actively contributing to a more inclusive and diverse digital landscape. The impact of your efforts extends beyond the individuals directly benefiting from accessible websites, as it promotes social equity and equal opportunities for all.