Web Accessibility and Design

February 4, 2023 | Sean Brannon

What is Web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the practice of creating websites, applications, and digital content that can be used by everyone. It means that content should be accessible to those using assistive technologies such as screen readers, text-to-speech software, and voice recognition software. It also means that content should be available to those with limited physical abilities, such as those who are unable to use a mouse or a keyboard.

When creating accessible content, the goal is to make it as usable as possible for all users. This includes making sure content is understandable, navigable, and operable for those with different abilities.

Web accessibility standards

When designing a website, there are standards and guidelines that need to be followed to ensure accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the internationally accepted standard for web accessibility.

These guidelines set out recommendations for making content more accessible. The WCAG are divided into four main categories: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Each category has specific guidelines that should be followed in order to ensure content is accessible. These include adding alternative text to images, providing captions for video content, and making sure colour contrast is sufficient.

Operable: content must be operable and navigable using a variety of user interfaces, including keyboards, speech recognition, and touch screens.

Understandable: content should be easily understood by users, regardless of language, culture, education level, or experience.

Robust: content must be robust enough to work on a variety of user agents, including assistive technologies,

How to make your website accessible

Creating an accessible website is a critical component of inclusive web design. It means that your website can be used by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. This involves considering various impairments such as visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities. Here are some fundamental guidelines on making a website accessible:

1. Use Semantic HTML

Semantic HTML is the use of HTML markup to reinforce the semantics, or meaning, of the information in webpages rather than merely to define its presentation or look. Tags like <header>, <footer>, <article>, and <section> make your site more accessible because they give users and assistive technologies more context about your content.

2. Provide Alt Text for Images

Alternative text provides a textual alternative to non-text content in web pages. It’s especially helpful for people who use screen readers because the alt text can be read to describe the element it’s assigned to. Every image should have alt text that describes what’s on the image.

3. Ensure Adequate Color Contrast

Having sufficient color contrast between your text and its background makes your content more readable. This is particularly important for those with color blindness or other visual impairments. Tools like the WebAIM Contrast Checker can help verify that your site meets standard contrast ratios.

4. Use Descriptive Links

When adding hyperlinks, make sure the link text or “anchor text” is descriptive. Users should be able to know where the link will take them without needing to rely on surrounding text for context. Phrases like “click here” or “read more” are generally not descriptive enough.

5. Make Your Site Keyboard-Navigable

Ensure that your site can be fully navigated using only a keyboard. This is important for users with motor disabilities who can’t use a mouse. All interactive elements on your site, such as links, buttons, and forms, should be reachable and usable with keyboard-only commands.

6. Design Consistent Navigation

Keep your site navigation consistent across all pages. This makes it easier for all users, including those with cognitive disabilities, to learn how to navigate your site and find what they need.

7. Include Captions and Transcripts

If your website contains multimedia like videos or podcasts, provide captions or transcripts. This not only helps users who are deaf or hard of hearing but can also be beneficial for those who can’t play audio due to their current circumstances, like being in a noisy environment.

8. Use ARIA Roles Where Appropriate

ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) roles can be used to make elements that aren’t natively accessible (like some created with JavaScript) more accessible to assistive technologies. However, they should be used sparingly, and native HTML elements should be used whenever possible.

9. Test Your Site’s Accessibility

Use online tools like WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) or the Lighthouse tool in Chrome DevTools to test your site’s accessibility. Additionally, manually testing your site, including using it with a screen reader and navigating via keyboard only, is an excellent way to find and fix accessibility issues.

Remember, web accessibility is not a one-time task – it’s a continuous process. Keeping up with the latest best practices and always considering accessibility during the design and development stages will ensure your site remains accessible to all users.

WordPress accessibility

WordPress is an open-source content management system that is used to create websites. It is also very accessible and offers several features to help make content more available.

WordPress has an accessibility-ready theme that is designed to meet WCAG standards. It also offers several plugins that can be used to improve accessibility. These include plugins for adding alternative text to images and captions to video content.

Web accessibility tools

Testing for accessibility is an important part of ensuring content is available to all users. There are several tools and techniques that can be used to test for accessibility.

The most popular tools are automated accessibility checkers. These tools scan websites for potential accessibility issues and provide a report. Popular tools include WAVE, aXe, and Tenon.

Google Lighthouse is another popular tool for testing accessibility. Lighthouse is an open-source auditing tool that can be used to check for a wide range of web performance and accessibility issues.

Have actual users test the site

Conducting user testing for accessibility is a crucial step to ensure that your website is usable by everyone, including individuals with various types of disabilities. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can go about this process:

1. Identify the Participants:

Your testers should be representative of your user base. This includes people with different types of disabilities that affect how they access the web, such as visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments. You may need to work with organizations that specialize in disability services to connect with potential testers.

2. Define Tasks:

Identify the key tasks that users should be able to complete on your website. This could be things like finding information, completing a form, making a purchase, or using a tool. These tasks should be the focus of your testing.

3. Choose Your Testing Methods:

There are different ways to conduct accessibility testing. Some options include:

  • Usability Testing: This is a one-on-one session where a user performs tasks while thinking aloud. The tester observes to identify any problems or difficulties.
  • Remote Testing: If testers cannot be physically present, you can use screen sharing and video conferencing tools to observe them remotely. Ensure any remote testing tools are accessible to your testers.
  • Surveys and Questionnaires: These can be used to gather feedback from a larger number of people. Make sure the survey itself is accessible and includes questions about the user’s experience with different aspects of your site’s accessibility.

4. Conduct the Test:

If you’re doing a usability test, ensure the environment is comfortable and accessible for the tester. Explain the purpose of the test and reassure them that you’re testing the site, not their abilities. Ask them to complete the tasks while thinking aloud and ask questions to understand their experience better.

5. Collect and Analyze Feedback:

Take note of any difficulties the testers experienced, any suggestions they have, and their overall experience. If multiple testers had trouble with the same task, that’s a clear sign that part of your site is not accessible.

6. Make Improvements:

Use the feedback to make your website more accessible. This might involve making changes to your site’s design, coding, or content. Once changes are made, consider doing another round of testing to ensure the issues have been adequately addressed.

Remember, accessibility testing should not be a one-time activity. Regular testing should be part of your development process to maintain and improve your website’s accessibility over time.

Lastly, consider supplementing user testing with automated accessibility testing tools, such as WAVE or the Accessibility Insights tool, for a more comprehensive accessibility evaluation. These tools can quickly identify some types of accessibility issues, like missing alt text or insufficient color contrast, although they can’t catch everything that user testing can.

Design with accessibility in mind

Design will not suffer, we just design with accessibility in mind. Meeting WCAG 2.1 standards and having a site or application for all users is worth any design sacrifice you think you will have to make. Accessible websites are easier to use and force us all to critically think through the function and purpose of every single design element.

Web accessibility is an important concept when it comes to web design. It is the practice of making websites, applications, and other digital content available to all users.

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