Access for all!
5 techniques for implementing web accessibility
Visiting a website and interacting seamlessly with it is something we do every day. You go into a webpage and browsing through it is hassle-free: its colors look wonderful, its design is easy to navigate, and its content is perfectly readable. The experience is effortless: in a short period of time you finish what you had to do such as obtaining information, making payments, checking social media, and you are done. Not much to it.
It’s so simple and easy you don’t think twice about it. You take the experience for granted.
Now, what if navigating a website proved to be a real challenge for you? All the colors on it look the same or the words on the screen are difficult to read. Or what if you could not see at all? Or then again, maybe a physical impairment doesn’t allow you to navigate as other people do. The world wide web is there, right in front of you, with its vast treasure horde of information, but you simply cannot access it.
Tough position to be in, right?
This is what web accessibility is about, making the web accessible to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. This includes people with a diverse spectrum of abilities, be it cognitive, movement, sight, hearing, or others. This is the 21st Century, we need to be inclusive and provide equal opportunities for all. No exceptions.
Now, in addition to looking at things from a humanistic perspective, it should be your priority to expand the reach of your site. In order words, expanding your potential audience should be high on your to-do list since the more people have access to your site, the more your user base will grow. It’s a win-win scenario no matter how you look at it.
Even though disabilities of all kinds – permanent and temporal – exist, in order to be able to provide an accessible website for all, there are some basics you need to cover.
- Mobility – these relate to the inability to move your body, or parts of it, freely. They include precise movements, such as tapping on touch screens or using a mouse. Examples: multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease.
- Visual – partial or complete inability to see or to discern color contrasts. Examples: color blindness, cataracts.
- Cognitive – these relate to varying levels of ability when it comes to performing mental tasks, such as problem-solving, reasoning, and abstract thinking. Examples: autism, dyscalculia.
- Hearing: partial or complete inability to hear. Examples: sensorineural hearing loss, auditory processing disorder.
So, now that you understand the essentials behind some of the most frequent disabilities, implementing accessibility becomes a lot more straight forward. By becoming aware of what makes your website difficult to access for some people, you can go ahead and tackle the problem.
We give you a few quick tips that can help you make your site more accessible:
Alt text for images – It’s essential for you to include adequate alt text for images. This means screen readers – assistive software used by disabled people – can correctly understand what the images on the screen are expressing. The alt text should include the message you are conveying through images as well as any text contained in the images. If the webpage has images just for decorative purposes, these should not be included in the alt text so that the screen reader can focus on the important content. Nonetheless, if you use an image as a link, alt text is a must.
Selective color palette – When it comes to choosing the palette for your website, you need to carefully select what colors to use. Not only do you have to consider people with color blindness (red-green color deficiency is the most common) but those with learning disabilities, as well. Some colors are more helpful when it comes to organizing a page’s content and making it more distinguishable. Adding other visual indicators is also key, such as asterisks, and separate your content blocks clearly with borders. You can find some nifty online tools that can help you evaluate color contrasts.
Keyboards are welcome – Using a mouse should not be the sole way of interacting with your site. Keyboards are also a tool people can use to navigate. The majority of assistive software relies on this kind of navigation, so visitors should be able to access your site’s main features (pages, links, content, etc.) using a keyboard. The Tab key is your main ally in this since it allows people to jump between a webpage’s different areas. Making sure that all content and navigation can be accessed using the Tab key is an essential step towards web accessibility.
Headings and structure – A well-organized website is a whole lot easier to take in, by people and by screen readers. One option is to use headings adequately: use H1 once per page (for example, in a title) and then add sub-sections successively (H2 to H4). Use the headers in order so that the size decrease is consistent with the sections you wish to create. If you do this, your site will be easier to read and understand.
Steer clear of automatic media – Playing media automatically as soon as you enter a website is a very big issue when it comes to accessibility. Not only does it have the potential to confuse and frighten some users, but it can also be complicated to work out how to turn it off if visitors are using assistive software. The site should ask users if they wish to play the media first. Additionally, automatic navigation (eg: sliders) should be eschewed. Some visitors may need more time to read and take in the information presented to them than what is allotted by the motion graphics. If they are not allowed to process the information at their own rhythm, they can become frustrated.
As you well know, the making of a website involves a number of people. An essential part of your strategy should be to get everyone who is involved to shift their perspective. Make accessibility the fundamental mindset for any website you create. From the higher ups to designers to developers to content creators, everyone should be conscious of the importance of their role in making a site accessible. It goes way beyond checking off items on a list.
Like everything related to user experience, it’s about empathy. Having everyone on the team put themselves in the shoes of disabled users can go a long way. By keeping the end user in mind, as you do when you implement a great UX strategy, you cannot go wrong. You will be able to provide equal access to information and functionality by making sure your websites are suitably designed, properly developed, and adequately managed.
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