WHAT IS WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY?
A website is considered to be accessible if its content is easily available to everyone; no matter the level of impairment they might have. The World Wide Web Consortium has developed guidelines for making websites accessible. While the guidelines cover a wide range of accessibility issues, they can’t address the individual needs of every person. The goal is to present content in a way that is:
- easily perceivable
- easily operated
- clearly understandable
- able to be interpreted reliably
WHY ACCESSIBLE DESIGN MATTERS
Unfortunately, many designers aren’t aware of accessibility issues or don’t think that the population requiring special accessibility is large enough to invest the time and resources necessary to connect in a meaningful way.
That’s a mistake. It’s currently too large a population to be ignored and the growth trend is upwards. The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 285 million people in the world who are visually impaired. Estimates are that every day 100 more people begin to lose their sight. That’s an additional 36,500 people every year! The numbers represent real people; and that’s a huge number of people to ignore.
These numbers are only going to increase. Almost 90% of the population over the age of 65 has cataracts that affect color perception. The baby-boomer generation is aging and as they age they will encounter the normal vision and hearing problems associated with growing older. The baby-busters are hot on their heels and they are already voracious consumers of internet content. That won’t change as they age.
In addition, many people with disabilities live in developing areas and are just now getting access to the internet. As the internet penetrates deeper into these communities, you’ve got the opportunity to reach a larger audience if you’ve crafted your design to be accessible.
Just because a person has a vision, hearing, physical, or cognitive disability doesn’t mean that they don’t need access to your content. Making your design accessible won’t ruin the aesthetics or destroy functionality. It will get your content in front of more viewers. Savvy designers know that to maximize reach, you’ve got to design to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
DESIGNING FOR ACCESSIBILITY
People with visual disabilities may use screen reader apps to help them cruise the net and consume content. It’s important to keep in mind the requirements of screen-reader apps as well as the needs of the person using the app. Here are a few tips for website design:
If you are a fan of WordPress themes, start with one that has been tagged as accessibility ready. These themes already take many of the following guidelines into consideration. Make use of the WP-Accessibility Plugin too.
Make sure you use a consistent layout. The main elements such as navigation and banners should appear in the same locations on every page. Make sure your markup is consistent as well. There should be only one h1 element per page and the content should be similar to the page’s title. Remember to use headings in the proper order.
Alternative text tags are for more than SEO. They should provide a textual and contextual description of the image. If the image is just decorative, you can handle it with CSS. If it contains content, the alt text should describe the function of the link and not the image itself. Remember that the text should allow a person that can’t see the image to get the same information as a person that can see the image.
Keep forms as short as possible. Only ask for the information you need. Users with all levels of ability will appreciate this. If there are errors in the fields when the form is submitted, make sure the error is clearly indicated. General error messages can be hard enough for site visitors without disabilities to decipher. Make sure the error message clearly indicates which field in the form needs to be corrected.
Avoid using nested data tables. Visitors using assistive technologies may have problems navigating between cells. Include a brief summary of the content of the table in the summary text box.
AUDIO AND VIDEO FILES
Video players and audio players should not be set to auto-play. Include closed captioning for videos and transcripts for audio files for the hearing impaired.
Don’t let color be the only way you convey information. For example, if you rely on color alone to show hyperlinks, your color blind audience might not be able to tell the difference in text. Did you know that almost 8% of the male population is color blind? Use underlines or borders to indicate links. Be mindful of the amount of contrast you use for the background color and the text color.
Don’t include pages that automatically reload on a periodic basis. Not all readers or screen readers will cover the material quickly and the user may not have finished reading the text before the page refreshes. Imagine how frustrating that would be!