“Accessibility is the ability to access (i.e., use and/or interact with) a product or service. In the design context, accessibility means that a product or service should be able to be used by everyone, regardless of a person’s physical, economic or cultural status.” -Interaction Design Foundation
Though a common misconception, accessibility is not the same as usability. Usability refers to how hard a user has to work to achieve their goals with a product or service. In contrast, accessibility is the quality of being easy to obtain or use. Inaccessible products and services are unique in that they exclude certain people – however unintentionally – from using them altogether due to inability to interact with the content. Nearly one out of every five individuals is living with a disability. The severity can range from visual impairment to deafness or hard of hearing to intellectual and physical disadvantages. This is a big deal because businesses whose websites lack accessibility features are ignoring almost 20% of their potential customers. The great news is that making your website accessible doesn’t just improve the user experience for those customers with disabilities, it improves everyone’s experience.
“Accessible content is more logical, more readable, and generally more usable for everyone. Think of good accessibility as good usability, which means you can also think of it as really, really good for business.” – The Rocket Science Group
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline three conformance levels A, AA, and AAA. While Level A is a good starting point, meeting the absolute minimum accessibility guidelines, all organizations are encouraged to strive for Level AA. Level AAA is synonymous with perfection and nearly impossible to attain in a comprehensive manner. That being said, exploring the level requirements provided by WCAG is a great jumping off point for organizations interested in working towards an accessible website. Exhaustive accessibility adaptations can be laborious and expensive, but there are many small changes that are easy to implement and cost-effective. Here are a few ideas that you can start working on right away to make an impact on your website’s accessibility.
- Use HTML Tags
Individuals who rely on screen readers to view web content depend on these elements to interact with your website. Use HTML attributes like <p>, <h1>, and <h2>, rather than style elements like colors or bold text, to help individuals scan and navigate the information on your web pages. HTML tags allow individuals using screen readers to identify important sections within your content. Additionally, don’t skip levels, heading 1 should be followed by heading 2 and heading 3. Don’t follow a heading 2 with a heading 4 as this can confuse those who rely on technology, rather than sight, to view your webpage.
- Use Correct Color Contrast
Naturally, using effective color contrast is a good design choice, but it is especially important for individuals with visual impairments. Colorzilla is a web extension that allows you to grab colors directly from your page. You can then input these colors into WebAIM, a color contrast checker. WebAIM utilizes the WCA guidelines to grade the contrast of the colors you enter so that you can clearly see the level of accessibility you are providing users.
- Use Meaningful Link Text
“Click Here” and “Learn More” are both popular examples of commonly used links on websites. The issue with links such as these is that they do not create an expectation within your user of where the link will lead them. This is an important fix that will improve the experience of all website users. For example, rather than “Learn More,” try “Learn More About Our Products.” This will tell users and screen readers alike where that particular link will end.
- Use Proper Alt Text
Alternative text is a brief description of an image used when an individual cannot view your image. Alt text should be short, but descriptive enough to highlight the importance of the image to your content. Learn more about how to write effective alt text.
- Avoid Images With Text
Individuals who use screen readers will be unable to see information in images or infographics. Highlighting your most critical pieces of information inside of an image is a bad move, as they will be missed by those with visual impairments. Instead, use images – with quality alt text – to complement important text information, rather than feature it.
“Often, accessibility best practices are just best practices overall” – Jerry Cao, UXPin
More than one-third of households in the US have an individual who self-identifies as having a disability. These individuals make up a significant part of the market today, nearly 20%. Unfortunately, few website designers and content creators take accessibility into account when building websites. Most companies cannot afford to neglect one out of every five potential customers. Thankfully, there are a number of services that allow you to easily evaluate the accessibility of your website. WAVE is a free service that assesses the accessibility of any webpage you input. A tool such as this allows you to identify your website’s weak points. Check it out. Make some changes. When you’re ready to take an in-depth look at your user experience, call Discida. We offer both market and user experience research option to help your website become the best that is can be.
Also published on Medium.