Some people believe that having an accessible website means that it’s ‘live’ and you can access it from a computer or mobile device. Others think about ramps, lifts, access maps and disabled toilets for the physical location that a website might be pointing visitors to. The truth is, being ‘accessible’ online is a whole lot more than that. And that ‘whole lot more’ is simply not clearly understood by the majority of people who build, code, design, write, or project manage websites.
There are so many facets to an individual website. Each has differing amounts of informational content, ecommerce, and links to other sites – so ensuring a website is accessible means that all of the things you can read or view or put in a shopping cart from the site needs to be accessible, as well as the way that the website is designed and structured to present all of the choices it offers you.
Google ‘web accessibility’ and you’ll find a Wiki that says the phrase refers to “the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities.” It goes on to say that “when sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality” – and this last part is really important. All users.
Ensuring a website is accessible benefits everyone… ie: all users. Most people have temporary disability some of the time (like a broken limb, an ear infection, side-effects from surgery, a migraine), and some people have disability all of the time. Websites also need to cater to the usage needs of those with a cognitive disability (dyslexia, autism, etc) as well as for people with English as a second language.
Sarah Christopher is a Digital Accessibility Analyst at Media Access Australia and has a strong appreciation of the benefits of user experience testing and inclusive design. “You have to be sure that the experience of using a website is one that is inclusive for all,” she says.
“The most efficient way of knowing if your website offers an inclusive experience is to test it on users of all abilities, ages, cultures, and walks of life,” says Sarah. “Doing this will help you reach out effectively to all of the people who would be interested in your product, service or group.”
Making what you do online accessible ensures that more people can engage with you, and you won’t be turning people away from your website and handing them over to your competitors because they can’t use your site or it’s just too difficult for users to persist with it.
“Human diversity must be considered when creating a website,” maintains Sarah Christopher. “So every possible individual quality should be included to create many entry points to your website. By being inclusive, you are removing barriers to social participation and essentially promoting social inclusion more broadly, which benefits everyone.”
Unfortunately, very few websites are optimally accessible, although more and more are taking steps to remove barriers and be more inclusive. Here are seven ways to find out how your website rates:
Use an accessibility checker tool to get a quick overview
For a quick snapshot of how accessible your site it, you can use a free tool. They won’t pick up every issue and they are by no means definitive, but using a free tool will give you an overall view. Of course, a professional web access audit from Media Access Australia is a far more definitive solution, as it provides a comprehensive check across 38 key criteria from the global WCAG 2.0 level AA accessibility guidelines, along with step-by-step instructions on how to fix each access issue. Yet, using a free automated tool is a great way to start. Check out Wave or AChecker.
Test with a colour contrast analyser
Colour contrast is important for your website because it affects how some people perceive the content and information. It is best to consider colour contrast early on in your website’s development process, because it can be very difficult to change if your branding colours and style guides rely on certain colour combinations. The best way to check if your colour contrast are WCAG 2.0 ‘AA’ compliant is with a colour contrast analyser. The Paciello Group have a free colour contrast analyser that you can download for Windows and iOS.
Do all images across your site have Alt Text?
Images are a great way to complement or add value to the content on your website. However, a person who is blind, or has low vision is unable to perceive images visually. They rely on assistive technology – such as screen readers – to announce the content of an image to help them to perceive the content. For WCAG 2.0 ‘AA’ compliance, all images on a website require an alternative text. This is why alternative text is so important. It must be descriptive, but concise, so a screen reader – such as JAWS or NVDA – will read out that information to the user. If the image is decorative – it doesn’t support or provide value to the content – it still requires alternative text, but it must be given what is called a ‘null alt attribute’. This means the alt HTML attribute is left blank (a coding example is: alt=“”). This ensures a screen reader ignores the image, and will continue to announce the rest of the content on your website.
Avoid carousels that can’t be paused or stopped
Carousels are commonly used on websites to provide a useful way to highlight featured content or portray key messages visually or with text in a revolving display. However, the moving or scrolling content can be a distraction for most people. In particular, it can be a problem for people who have difficulty reading or understanding content quickly or are easily distracted by moving content. Giving users the opportunity to pause or stop a carousel with a pause button is a way to give your users more control over how they can perceive the content that best suits their individual needs.
Can your website be navigated using only a keyboard?
Some users may have a temporary disability with a broken arm, or when they are carrying a small child. Others may have a permanent disability with RSI, arthritis, or hand tremors. There are also people who use assistive technologies such as screen readers. All of these user groups rely on the use of a keyboard to navigate through a website, which is why it is important to make sure your website is accessible via keyboard use. The best way to test this is to see if you can navigate and use your website using only a keyboard.
Include a ‘skip to content’ link
Following on from keyboard use, including a ‘skip to content’ link is incredibly useful for keyboard users. If keyboard users have to navigate through a lot of links at the top of a page before getting to the actual content every time they load a new page, it makes the experience rather frustrating. Providing a hidden link that appears at the top of the webpage allows a keyboard user to bypass repeated content in the navigation bar, and go straight to the main content. It is easy to implement with simple code, and WebAIM provides a way to do this.
Does your website have images of text?
People with low vision, visual tracking problems, or cognitive disabilities like to be able to adjust the text of a website that best accommodates their needs. This could be changing the colour contrast, the size and spacing of text, and the font family. If images of text are used on a website, customising the text is impossible. If your website includes images of text, try viewing it in a high colour contrast mode. You will see that the text does not change colour, which makes it difficult for someone with low vision to read it. It is important to make sure that all text on a website can be customisable. The only exceptions to this is if the image of text itself can be customisable, or if the image of text is essential to the information on the website, for example a company’s branding logo.
Like to know more?
You can find information on the accessibility and inclusion services that Media Access Australia provides to businesses, Government departments and charities from the Digital Accessibility Services website, or call (02) 9212 6242 during business hours, or email email@example.com.