The Basics of Improving Website Accessibility

by | May 31, 2021 | Web

Improving website accessibility is a no-brainer in today’s digital world. This will assist people in communicating and interacting with your business and services online.

Web accessibility refers to tools, techniques and technologies created for people with disabilities. When incorporated into your web design, these tools will begin improving website accessibility instantly. From specific aids to general tips relating to content, layout, and colour schemes, there are many ways in which you can assist people with browsing your website. By making your website accessible to people who may require additional audio or visual assistance, you are expanding your reach to a greater audience.  

In today’s digital world, access to information online is defined as a basic human right by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As such, Canadian legislatures nation-wide have rules in place regarding accessibility standards, and accompanying fines for non-compliance. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include internet accessibility guidelines.

Improving website accessibility will provide a better user experience due to increased functionality and can in turn drive sales due to the greater reach and larger audience. It is important to realize that prior to these desirable side-effects, website developers must take care to follow accessibility guidelines and legislation pertaining to Canadians and citizens worldwide. Improving website accessibility, therefore, is something that all web developers should take seriously.

The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an internationally accepted standard for individuals, organizations and governments. Web Content is defined by WCAG as information (text, images, sound) and code (structure, presentation).

Why is Web Accessibility Important?

Web accessibility refers to catering a webpage for users with special needs based on many factors. This includes people with disabilities and impairments such as visual, photosensitive (conditions causing seizures), hearing, physical/motor, neurological, and cognitive (i.e., dementia, dyslexia) conditions. Improving website accessibility can include incorporating several technologies such as screen readers, speech recognition, braille terminals and assistive keyboards to the function of your pages.

Improving website accessibility also relates to people without disabilities such as the elderly, temporarily disabled people, those using a slower internet connection (perhaps in a rural or remote area), and those using displays other than a laptop – such as a smart watch, tablet, smart TV, older systems/devices etc. The internet contains an immense amount of information and accessibility can help overcome barriers related to communication and interaction that users face every day.

The internet should function for everyone – regardless of their bandwidth, location, software, or hardware. As of 2020, Canada has one of the highest internet availability rates, sitting at 96% of the population – this translates to about 34.56 million people. This means that most Canadian citizens use the internet. It is estimated that up to 22% of Canadians (over the age of 15) have at least one disability, which encompasses 6.2 million people. With such a large amount of people using the internet within Canada and worldwide, it is essential to be aware of accessibility standards, so that your website’s design and usability cater to everyone.

Best Practices for Website Accessibility

Creating a website that is useable will inevitably improve user experience, aid in customer retention and increase brand loyalty. People with disabilities, or those excluded from society for other reasons, deserve options to access information online.

Taking what we have learned so far, let’s look at some best practices to start improving website accessibility.

Typography

Be consistent and use one or two easily readable fonts. Avoid caps, bold, italics, fancy fonts, and graphics with blinking or moving text. This may not translate with tools for visually impaired users and can take up too much bandwidth for those browsing on a slower connection. Allow people to re-size the text, but make sure you enable the text to scale to other content – otherwise the action of re-sizing could make your design messy and less useable.

Accessible Headers

Headers provide structure and an obvious flow that the user will follow. There are specific guidelines pertaining to optimal size and placement. Generally, the top header is largest, followed by sub-heading for paragraphs with smaller fonts. This helps your content to be more readable and easier to follow.

Choose the Right Colour Scheme

You want your text content to stand out! Setting a dark colour against a light one will help the text be easy to read. Do not use shades that are too similar – like a dark blue and a dark purple, as the two will just blend and make reading difficult and strenuous. Using a tool to measure contrast can be a simple solution. Remember there are various types of colour-blindness, the most common being red-green. Avoiding the use of these colours together in graphics (such as maps or graphs) will help users easily scan through your site. 

Images

An important aspect of user experience that may be overlooked is making images accessible. Adding alternative text (alt text) replaces an image if it cannot load (low bandwidth) and can be read to someone using a screen reader. This small detail makes your webpage look more comprehensive and put-together. In general, images should be an appropriate size, and be re-sizable (just like text) without messing up the design or usability of the website across different browser or technology. Plus, image alt text provides the added benefit of boosting your SEO!

Videos

Incorporate options for captions, descriptions, and transcripts to your videos. Captions are an effective way to make videos accessible for the hearing-impaired when they are synced seamlessly to the spoken words. Position transcripts below the video for easy access. Make transcripts accurate in both dialogue and other relevant audio such as cues or actions. Accurately narrated descriptions (dialogue and actions) allow the visually impaired to access and understand video content as well.

Be Accessible for Keyboard-Only Use

Since many assistive technologies use keyboards for navigation, making your webpage workable without the use of a mouse is critical. The buttons, links, forms and pages on your website should have keyboard focus incorporated into them. This allows these webpage elements to receive keyboard input, meaning that they can be clicked on and navigated through without a mouse. This is most commonly done with the use of the Tab key. A good test to check this would be to unplug your mouse and move through your own webpage.

Keep Forms Simple

Customers may want to sign up for your newsletter or subscribe to your webpage. When adding forms, make sure you clearly label each section, and have all the fillable aspects neatly organized and easy to move through. Only ask for the minimum required information! 

Declutter Your Webpages

Websites can quickly become outdated or overcrowded with information. It’s good practice to review websites and remove redundant, outdated and trivial (ROT) content. Redundant pages include duplicate pages, or websites containing information about your business which you have no control over or cannot monitor. Outdated pages include orphan pages (no owner, navigation is not possible), and those with past events/programs/currently irrelevant topics. Trivial pages refer to those without real content (not informative), pages with low or no visits, and those where the title does not match content. You should archive webpages that will no longer be updated, since having ROT content on your website will make it less accessible. 

The topics covered in this article are just the basics for improving website accessibility. At its core, web accessibility is important and should be a top priority. Not only will this improve the user experience for all users, but it will empower those with disabilities to access your information, products, or services.  

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