If you, as a business owner, were to ever open a retail store, you would make it welcoming to everyone, right? You would want your customers to feel welcomed and have a pleasant shopping experience.
Even if a customer enters in a wheelchair, you’d want them to be able to browse your products without having to worry about any accessibility issues. You’d want them to have the same, enjoyable experience a potential customer without a wheelchair would have.
You might want to make your website accessible too. People who visit your website may have disabilities or limitations — these people are your target audience. They might have difficulty accessing the content and information on your website.
Make your website — including the format, structure, navigation, visuals, and written content — accessible to everyone. In other words, you need to prioritize web accessibility.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility is the practice of making websites usable for all visitors, including those with disabilities, impairments, and limitations.
It involves following certain design principles which ensure that people with disabilities can access information. Accessibility is an important goal for websites, as it gives all users equal access to your content.
Who manages web accessibility on the internet?
The members of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP) are in charge of web accessibility. They enforce guidelines across the internet and publish the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
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
By focusing on your website’s level of accessibility, you’ll enhance user experience (UX) for every one of your visitors, including those with disabilities.
You’ll show 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 to you at this point — but is it required of you?
How is web accessibility enforced?
There aren’t any enforceable laws related to website accessibility unless you run a government website — in which case, you must abide by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act guidelines.
However, just because web accessibility isn’t a formal law doesn’t mean your business will automatically avoid a lawsuit. There are multiple cases in which major companies have been sued for the lack of an accessible website.
In fact, between the years of 2017 and 2018, there was an increase of 181% in the number of filed federal court lawsuits.
For example, in the Gil v. Winn-Dixie decision, a court ruled that websites may constitute “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Meaning, for businesses with physical stores and websites, their sites can be considered heavily-integrated with their physical store locations. So, their websites could be considered “gateways” to their physical store locations.
For this reason, websites constitute “a service of public accommodation” covered by the ADA — in other words, websites are expected to meet accessibility standards.
To avoid legal trouble make sure your website doesn’t prevent anyone from consuming any of the information you share. The simple way to do this is by abiding by WCAG guidelines.
Web Accessibility Standards
The most recent WCAG and 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 on your page — 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. It is recommended that you 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 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 total functionality via the keyboard
Ensure all functionality on your website are accessible with the keyboard alone. For example, the tab key should let users jump between selectable elements on the page.
Provide ample time to engage with your website
Allow users to read, watch, and use the various content types on your site within a reasonable time constraint.
If any action on your site includes a time limit, users should be allowed to extend or cancel it.
Avoid blinking/flashing content
Avoid content that blinks or flashes more than three times in a second. This can trigger seizures in some people with visual and cognitive disabilities.
Provide navigation to help users know where they are and where they can go
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 where each action leads to.
Understandable Web Accessibility Guidelines
Make text content readable
Your writing should be easily understood by as many readers as possible, including those with disabilities. Avoid using highly technical jargon and regional slang whenever possible.
Structure your pages and site logically
Arrange your navigational links and pages in a logical and hierarchical manner. This includes placing navigation above the fold, most commonly in the header (and footer) of the page.
Write useful error messages
Provide a clear description of the error and instructions to help visitors correct their mistakes.
Robust Web Accessibility Guidelines
Write HTML that can be parsed
Assistive technologies often make use of a web page’s HTML file in order to translate its contents into a different format.
For this reason, use start and end tags when required. Avoid duplicate IDs across elements and duplicate attributes within the same HTML tag.
Web Accessibility Tools
There are a variety of web accessibility testing tools available today. We have highlighted a few options below to provide insight into the capabilities these accessibility tools have.
accessibilityCheckTM is a cloud-based multi-document audit and compliance report module. It performs a comprehensive audit of PDFs and documents in other formats such as Word, Excel, etc.
The documents are assessed for compliance against PDF U/A and WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.
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 aren’t considered accessible.
DYNO Mapper by Indigo Design Company LLC is a sitemap generator. It uses sitemaps to display the accessibility of your website after conducting content inventories and audits as well as keyword tracking.
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.
A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator
To make your website’s colors accessible, use the A11Y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator by A11Y Company. It displays the color contrast issues on your website or web pages.
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 and review the examples we listed for inspiration when making your site accessible!