Web accessibility is a crucial aspect of inclusive design, ensuring that websites are usable by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities or impairing conditions. Such accessibility ensures that everyone, irrespective of their abilities or the devices they use, can access information, complete tasks, and engage with everything a website has to offer.
Not only is it the right thing to do morally, but it’s also legally required in many jurisdictions, with businesses often facing penalties for non-compliance. This guide will explore key steps to improve web accessibility, making the online world more inclusive and accessible for all.
1. Understanding Web Accessibility Standards
To create a universally accessible website, it is crucial to understand the international standards of web accessibility, outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. At a minimum, aim for AA conformance. These guidelines focus on four key areas of accessibility:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in ways users can perceive. This could mean offering alternatives for non-text content or ensuring that multimedia is accessible.
- Operable: Users must be able to operate the interface and navigate the information, for example, making sure the website can be fully operated via a keyboard.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of the interface must be understandable. This includes making text content readable and predictable.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
2. Implementing Proper Semantic HTML
Semantic HTML provides a standard to interpret the structure of web content accurately. This makes it essential for ensuring screen readers and other assistive technologies can make sense of the content. Correct implementation of semantic HTML involves using the appropriate tags for content, such as:
<header>for a container for introductory content.
<nav>for navigation links.
<main>for the main content of a document.
<footer>for containing information about the author, copyright information, etc.
These HTML elements provide cues to assistive technologies about how to interpret the content they enclose.
3. Using Descriptive Alt Text for Images
Alt text, or alternative text, is a crucial element that describes images to users who can’t see them. This description is crucial for screen readers, which read this text aloud to users. Effective alt text should convey the purpose or message of an image rather than just its appearance. For example, instead of “man on a bike,” a better alt text could be “man cycling on a mountain trail.”
4. Enabling Keyboard Navigation
Some users rely solely on the keyboard to navigate web pages. It is critical to ensure that all functionalities of a website are accessible through keyboard-only commands. This includes things like:
- Interactive features: Links, buttons, form fields, and other interactive elements must be focusable using the
Tabkey and actionable with the
- Navigation: Users should be able to navigate through menus and other page sections using arrow keys or
- Skip links: These are internal page links that allow users to skip over navigation menus and other lengthy lists of links to get straight to the main content.
5. Providing Sufficient Color Contrast
To ensure legibility, text and images of text should have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. Additionally, visual elements used to indicate action, prompts, or statuses must also offer sufficient color contrast. Online color contrast checking tools can help you ensure compliance with these guidelines.
6. Using ARIA Roles Where Necessary
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) attributes supplement HTML with additional semantics when the meaning of a control or the structure of the content cannot be ascertained from the HTML alone. ARIA attributes like
aria-hidden can provide essential information to assistive technologies, enhancing accessibility.
7. Making Your Website Compatible with Assistive Technologies
To ensure your website is accessible to all users, it’s important to test its compatibility with various assistive technologies. This includes:
- Screen readers: Software programs that allow visually impaired users to read the text displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer.
- Braille output devices: Hardware devices that represent screen text in refreshable Braille cells for tactile reading.
- Voice recognition software: Allows users to control their computers using their voice.
8. Using Clear and Simple Language
Your web content should be as clear and straightforward as possible. This includes using simple language, short sentences, and bullet points or numbered lists to make content more digestible. Also, always provide explanations for industry-specific terms or jargon. Providing a glossary can be very helpful for users unfamiliar with certain terms.
9. Including Captions and Transcripts
For audio or video content, always include captions and, if possible, provide transcripts. Captions not only help deaf and hard-of-hearing users but can also aid users in noisy environments or those who prefer reading. Transcripts offer an additional layer of accessibility by providing a full, text-based representation of all spoken content and relevant sounds in a video.
10. Designing Consistent Interfaces
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing within your website. Using consistent page layouts, navigation menus, color schemes, and interactive elements across your site make it easier to navigate, improving the overall user experience.
11. Conducting Regular Accessibility Audits
Conducting regular accessibility audits can help identify and rectify any accessibility issues. This should involve automated testing with accessibility checkers, manual testing to ensure all elements work as expected, and user testing, which involves watching people with various disabilities interact with your site.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Web Accessibility
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. While the ADA doesn’t explicitly mention websites, court rulings and the Department of Justice’s interpretations have confirmed that websites are considered “places of public accommodation” and must therefore be accessible.
Under the ADA, businesses can face severe penalties if their websites aren’t accessible to people with disabilities. Therefore, following web accessibility best practices and conducting regular accessibility audits are essential steps for any organization looking to adhere to the ADA’s requirements and avoid potential legal issues.
Improving web accessibility involves several crucial steps and requires an ongoing commitment. From understanding and applying accessibility standards to conducting regular audits, each step plays a role in ensuring your website is accessible to as many users as possible.
Remember, it’s not only about compliance with laws like the ADA, but it’s also about enhancing the user experience and embracing the principle of equal access for all. By following this guide, you can make significant strides towards creating a more accessible web for everyone.