If you were going to open a book store or coffee shop, you’d want to be welcoming to everyone, right? If a potential customer showed up that was visually impaired or had some physical limitations, you’d like them to be able to enter your store and purchase your products without encountering any bothersome accessibility issues.
The same principle should hold true for your business’s website. When people with disabilities or limitations visit your website, they shouldn’t face any roadblocks that prevent them from getting the information they need or accessing your content. But a disturbing number of them will. This is why it’s so important that you make your website accessible to everyone.
What is an Accessible Website?
Ideally, everyone should be able to use your business’s website. It shouldn’t matter if they have a condition that limits their capabilities or what software or hardware they need to use. This is the main idea behind the concept of website accessibility.
It’s a fact that one in four U.S. adults lives with some type of disability. Some of those limitations make it difficult or impossible for them to access information on the internet. Various types of disabilities can prevent people from using websites. Some of these include:
- Visual Impairment — This includes the partial or total inability to see or perceive color contrasts.
- Hearing Impairment — This refers to the inability to perceive sounds, partially or totally.
- Cognitive Disabilities — Some people have limitations that impact their cognitive abilities, such as dyslexia or dementia.
- Physical and Motor Skills Disabilities — Your visitors might have physical limitations, such as the inability to operate a mouse or keyboard.
- Photosensitive Seizures — Flashing lights on websites can trigger seizures in some conditions like epilepsy.
There’s a good chance that someone you know, even one of your potential clients, has one or more of these limitations.
Why Website Accessibility is Important
Your business should make website accessibility a priority for several reasons, including:
- It gives your potential customers equal access to your website, content, and products or services.
- It demonstrates your brand’s commitment to serving everyone, regardless of limitations.
- It protects your company from potential lawsuits and fines resulting from inaccessibility (more on that below).
- It helps grow your business by expanding your reach to the largest possible market.
Few businesses make their websites inaccessible on purpose. In fact, most companies want to reach a broad audience but just aren’t sure about the best approach.
Signs Your Website Isn’t Accessible
Assuming you already have a website that you want to check for accessibility issues, you may not be sure where to start. Here are several quick website accessibility checks you can do:
- Check alt text for images – Screen readers and other assistive technology won’t work without having “text alternative” available. Check your images and other non-text content to see if this is in place.
- Check your videos for cc – If your website has video content (it should), those videos should also be set up with closed captioning. Another good idea is to provide a transcript for your video, which can also provide an SEO boost for your site.
- Check keyboard-friendliness – Accessible websites are navigable via a mouse, keyboard, or some other input device. If you are unable to switch this using the Tab or Shift-Tab shortcuts, you’ll want to make some updates.
You can also try out the free accessibility testing tools at Accessibility.dev.
Is Website Accessibility Enforceable?
Unless you operate a government website, there aren’t any laws making website accessibility enforceable. That said, quite a few companies have recently been sued for not having accessible websites.
For example, the court ruled in Gil v. Winn-Dixie that websites may constitute “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The idea is that businesses with physical locations must consider that their websites are considered a “gateway” to those stores. Therefore, the website must meet ADA accessibility standards.
In another case, Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, a blind person who was unable to place an order using the company’s website and app. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the inaccessibility of the company’s website impeded access to the products in the company’s physical stores, which were subject to public accommodation rules.
While there aren’t specific laws in place making website accessibility enforceable, the rise in lawsuits is concerning. Preventing people from using your website is just bad business, anyway. The best solution is to create a website accessibility strategy, whether it’s for an existing site or a new one.
Website Accessibility Standards
While no one is specifically “in charge” of website accessibility online, there are some guidelines. Specifically, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIP), which published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These standards focus on four main principles of website accessibility:
Visitors to a website must be able to understand, be aware of, or perceive the information and content that is being presented. “Perceive” doesn’t necessarily refer to “seeing” content. For example, a screen reader can convert text to braille characters or synthesized speech.
An operable website is one that allows a user to experience without disruptions. In other words, your visitors will be able to use every part of the website that is open to people without limitations, such as audio, video, and menus. These types of websites often have to discard certain items that might limit functionality.
All of your website’s content, including all graphic and written material, should be simple to understand by all visitors. Verbose and jumbled language can be challenging to decipher for visitors with certain impairments. Likewise, your website’s navigation should be intuitive enough that most people will be able to make their way around your site with ease.
Your website’s content should be easily consumable for any visitor, even those using assistive technology. Your website designer can help create the right HTML coding for your site so that it integrates perfectly with various assistive technologies like screen readers.
10 Tips for Creating an Accessible Website
Optimizing your new or existing website for disabled users makes good business sense. You can build a positive brand image while catering to a broader market at the same time. Once you know what areas you need to address, you can implement some of these initiatives to create an accessible website:
- Add Images with Alt Text
Images add a lot to your content. But not everyone can see them. People who are visually impaired can interpret the images, however, if you include Alt Text with descriptors. This text can be read by Braille Readers and Screen Readers.
- Allow Users to Adjust Font Sizes
Some people just need larger text to get your message. When your website includes an alternate style sheet, a user can enlarge the text without “breaking” the page. Also, make sure your buttons and CTAs are large enough for most people to read.
- Consider Contrast Sensitivity
In addition to text size, it’s important to think about contrast and color. People with visual impairments, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy, have low color contrast sensitivity. Avoid using thin fonts and try to use black text over a white background.
- Include Keyboard Navigation
Visually impaired users need assistance with site navigation. Make sure these users can access the interactive parts of your site, including forms, CTAs, URLs, anchor text, and drop-down menus. Your web designer can make these elements accessible via a keyboard.
- Use Descriptive URLs
Descriptive URLs help the search engines know what your page is about. They are also helpful for people with disabilities who need something more descriptive about your page than “Click Here” or “Read More.”
- Make Video Content Accessible
Video and other multimedia content should also be accessible since this can boost engagement. You can include close captioning with videos, add written transcripts, and include audio descriptors with multimedia content.
- Minimize the Use of Tables
People with visual impairments find it challenging to interpret data in tables. If you must use them, do so sparingly. Wherever possible, it’s better to use CSS to present data on your website.
- Avoid Using Placeholder Text in Forms
Online forms sometimes use placeholder text to describe different elements. Avoid making this text grey, which is difficult to read. A better option than placeholder text is using the tag that denotes the text as a label. You can use other HTML coding to make the text more readable.
- Use Headers to Structure Your Content
It’s always a good idea to structure your website’s content using headers. It makes the content easier to read as well as interpret for people with disabilities. For example, H1 tags denote page titles, H2 are section headers, H3 are subsection headers, and so on.
- Avoid Automatic Navigation and Media
Even people without limitations don’t love it when a website automatically plays music or videos with sound or decides to send you someplace else. Someone with a visual or other disability would have difficulty figuring out how to disable those features. The best practice is not to use them.
Ready to Create an Effective and Accessible Website?
It’s evident that simply having any type of website presence isn’t the best strategy to reach a broad audience online. You need a functional and accessible website that conveys your brand’s message to people with various limitations.
At Too Darn Loud Digital Marketing, our website professionals understand that your business’s website is one of its most valuable assets. We help clients create a compelling and memorable online presence through effective, functional, attractive, and accessible design. Contact us today to learn more.