February 7, 2022 | 4-minute read (811 words)
Some 18% of U.S. adults report they are living with a disability that affects their daily activities, according to the Pew Research Center. But have you considered whether audience members who are visually impaired, hard of hearing or unable to use a mouse or trackpad can access your business’s website?
While the internet is supposed to eliminate barriers to communication and interaction, many websites and apps are designed in such a way that they exclude people with disabilities. In response, the World Wide Web Consortium’s Accessibility Initiative has created international standards for making websites more usable for those with disabilities, and many businesses are following suit.
Web accessibility efforts aim to code websites in such a way that they accommodate members of the audience with disabilities affecting their access to the web, such as cognitive, auditory, visual, neurological, physical and speech disabilities. Accessible websites are designed so those with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the web, and so they can contribute to it.
Meanwhile, web accessibility also benefits many people without disabilities, such as older individuals, those with a poor internet connection and those with a temporary impairment such as a broken wrist or lost eyeglasses.
In July 2021, Colorado became the first state to require that all state and local government websites be accessible for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, the majority of websites continue to be developed without consideration of barriers to accessibility.
Businesses that are ready to expand their reach by making their site disability accessible can follow the recommendations below.
Steps for making your website more disability accessible
1. Select an accessibility-friendly CMS
– Once you’ve secured a content management system that meets your business’s needs, select an accessible template. The majority of systems offer tips for creating accessible content and corresponding templates. When choosing modules, widgets or plugins, follow the same guidelines.
2. Include accurate alt text for images – For users who are blind or have poor vision, website images present an accessibility hurdle, as assistive tools can’t read images or text in images. By including alt text for images, people using screen readers can understand the message you are trying to communicate with images.
3. Structure content with headings – Strategic placement of headings on your site helps individuals using assistive technology, like refreshable Braille displays and screen readers, navigate your site. Make your headings and subheadings descriptive so users have a concise overview of the content that follows.
4. Make URLs descriptive – While users who are visually impaired may employ screen readers to scan your site for links, the devices can’t read links within the rest of the page. But the use of descriptive text explains the context of links for people who use screen readers.
Also, avoid using calls to action such as “click here” and “read more” because they do not compute with assistive technologies, as they don’t provide a clear understanding of where the link goes.
5. Use color judiciously – Color should be used in tandem with other visual cues, such as an asterisk or a question mark, to accommodate both those with visual impairments and those with certain learning disabilities. Use visual separators, like borders and whitespace, to help differentiate content.
The previous steps are recommended because people with disabilities, particularly those with learning disabilities, benefit from the use of color to differentiate content, but individuals with visual impairments often have low color contrast sensitivity. Further, an estimated 8% of men worldwide have color vision deficiency.
6. Implement ARIA roles – Accessible Rich Internet Applications define a method for making web content and apps more accessible to people with disabilities. ARIA roles and attributes let screen readers and other assistive tech better understand your website’s elements.
7. Minimize distractions – People with ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders can better focus on your site’s essential elements if you reduce distractions.
8. Make content keyboard-accessible – Make sure individuals who can’t use a mouse or trackpad can access content by using the arrow or tab keys on their keyboards, or with alternative input devices like a mouth stick. Users with disabilities should also be able to access your site’s interactive elements, such as drop-down menus, dialog boxes, widgets and dialog boxes.
9. Make dynamic content accessible – Screen readers can miss content that updates dynamically, such as in-page updates, pop-ups and screen overlays. Keyboard-only users can get stuck in page overlays, while those using magnification software may zoom in on the wrong section of the site. Make dynamic content accessible through the use of ARIA roles and accessibility-specific development frameworks.
10. Make multimedia content accessible – Videos and other types of multimedia elements are inaccessible for users who are visually impaired and those who are hard of hearing. Consider employing an audio description of visual elements, like images and gestures, for users who are blind.