The internet can be a strange and confusing place to navigate for anyone who’s not used to it. People with disabilities are often at a disadvantage both online and offline. Although the internet opens up a world of possibilities and accessibility, there are still sites and web pages that aren’t exactly accessible for people with disabilities. People with disabilities can include those with physical conditions (blindness, deafness, limited motor skills) and mental conditions (learning disabilities, ADHD, mental illness.)
The age of the internet has made many things accessible to us in our everyday lives. Tasks that would usually take hours or days to complete can now be done in a matter of minutes through the use of the internet. If the internet can make certain tasks easy for able people, why shouldn’t disabled people also get the accessibility that they deserve?
Web accessibility is more than just a way to make the web more easily available to disabled people. It’s a way to make them feel included and seen, a way to foster an environment where the needs of disabled people aren’t secondary to the able but are prioritized and made into a standard. Web accessibility is all about designing your site to cater to all audiences and ensuring that your site can be seen, navigated, and understood by as many people as possible, including disabled people.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG provide a helpful framework to determine just how accessible a website is. They categorize accessibility options based on 4 principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. To elaborate further, here are some ways you can make your website more accessible, taking into consideration the 4 WCAG principles.
Making your site perceivable is all about presenting the content on your website in a way that can be “perceived” by all senses, save perhaps for smell and touch. This means that any content you may have on your site can’t be limited to just one sense. People with auditory problems need to be able to see the content, while people with visual problems need to be able to hear the content.
An easy way to remedy this is to provide good captions for video content and written transcripts for both audio and visual content. Having a small sign language screen at the corner of videos also helps. If you have images on your site, make sure to provide alternative text for each of them if they serve a purpose, such as an infographic or picture example.
More than that, you want people to be able to see or hear the content on your site easily. Provide crisp and clean audio whenever possible. All the text on your website should be readable, so be wary of the font and text size you use, as well as the font color, spacing, and site background. The color contrast ratio of your site should at least be 3:1 and any links must be easily distinguishable from normal text.
Use clear headers and page titles where applicable to denote new topics or sections and avoid large blocks of text. Use tables and graphs for any important data and make sure that your site is arranged in a way that makes it easily navigable.
Making a site operable, meanwhile, is making sure that the site’s interface and navigation can be accessed by all users and allows for easy interaction of all components. This is to cater to all users with limited motor skills and functionality and may require an assistive device or can only use a mouse or a keyboard.
Allow the use of keyboard shortcuts on your site or optimize it so a user can access and navigate all parts of the site using only their keyboard. Make sure that none of the access or shortcut keys conflict with any existing default shortcuts, or allow users the ability to customize it to their needs.
To accommodate users who may need more time than others to read or understand the content, don’t put a time limit on any content and give them the option to pause, stop or rewind in videos and audio content. Additionally, give users the ability to pause, hide or stop any automated or automatically updating content, such as chat boxes, alerts carousel animations, and the like.
Avoid adding content that makes use of flashing lights or flashing bright colors that can induce seizures and other violent reactions. You can either delete that kind of content altogether or allow users to disable them.
When providing links for page navigation, make sure that the purpose of each link is easily understandable and means exactly what it says on the tin. Make sure that links are arranged in a neat and logical order and create a visual identifier to make users aware of which link is the current keyboard focus. Add section headings and page titles for each new web page and provide page numbers and navigation help links.
Every written component of your site has to be understandable for even the most basic English speakers or readers. This means using simple and straightforward language. No flowery words or complex concepts. If you can’t avoid using complicated terms, brush up on your English writing skills. Believe it or not, it takes some skill to be able to communicate a complex concept into simple, understandable terms.
Make sure that all of your sentences are readable in the sense that any person regardless of skill level will be able to read and comprehend them. Give context clues, a glossary of terms, or a clear definition of any words or terms that may be unfamiliar or uncommon. Provide translations for content in different languages if necessary and make a clear distinction between content in your native language and content in a foreign language, as well as proper pronunciation guides for all words.
Moreover, identify any errors in the user’s input text and provide them the option to change or correct it. Label any required interactive elements, such as in forms, correctly and make users confirm all the inputted data before submitting.
Having a robust site means that it holds up well even when formatted differently, such as in a mobile or desktop orientation. A site’s robustness is also determined by its compatibility with assistive devices and other alternatives. As better assistive technology is developed and evolved, the content on your site should remain accessible. This is more focused on the coding side of things, by identifying or parsing HTML errors and the use of ARIA to enhance HTML processes.
Accessibility doesn’t have to be hard. Even people without disabilities will be able to appreciate if your site has any accessibility options, is easily navigable, and is clear and straightforward. Look at it as a way to reach a wider audience and build more awareness towards your site.