Web Accessibility – What It Is and How to Design for It?
Web accessibility helps people with disabilities navigate a website and access its content more easily by using tools like a screen reader.
By making your websites accessible, you will be allowing more people to positively interact with them, generating more traffic in the process.
Unfortunately, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, 70% of checked websites have a serious lack of accessibility.
In this article, you will learn more about web accessibility and why it is important. Furthermore, we will show you how to make and test an accessible website based on international standards.
What Is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility refers to making a website accessible for everyone, especially users with disabilities. To accomplish this, it encourages using inclusive design, integrated technology, and software.
Web Accessibility – Video Tutorial
Learn how to improve your web accessibility and make your website easy to use for everyone.
Why It’s Important to Consider Accessibility in Web Design
Web accessibility creates the opportunity for people with disabilities to experience equal access to a digital platform.
Moreover, accessibility will provide for a better user experience, improving your website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts. This will help your website rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), increasing audience reach.
As a result, web accessibility helps businesses expand their market reach and increase customer satisfaction.
Before you start creating an accessible web design, let’s look at the diverse range of disabilities that affect access to your site and their respective accessibility solutions:
- Visual Impairment – includes blindness, low vision, and color blindness. Most people with these disabilities use screen magnifying software or rely on screen readers to read digital text aloud and describe images on the web. Examples of screen readers are JAWS and NVDA.
- Hearing Impairment – refers to various degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound. The audio content on the website should include a transcript or subtitles to make it easier to understand web content and interact with it.
- Motor Impairment – people with limited fine motor control may have difficulties using mice or trackpads. Thus, some users rely on their keyboards. They might need customized devices, such as a head pointer, speech recognition, or mouth sticks.
- Cognitive Impairment – mainly, this refers to learning disabilities. To help users with cognitive limitations interact, use consistent layout and navigation, simple language, and create video content.
Note that it is not only about permanently disabled people, but also users who experience temporary disabilities or situational accessibility problems. For example, some people might have difficulty hearing because they are in a crowded area.
Web Accessibility Standards
To ensure that your content and web applications have good accessibility, pay attention to several components, such as user agents as well as web and authoring tools.
To help you out, we will cover the specifications and web accessibility guidelines you should follow to meet the web accessibility standards.
Legal Requirements for Website Accessibility
The United States has introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on accessibility. It guarantees that every individual should be able to use all public facilities, including websites. In short, it makes web accessibility a legal requirement.
As a result, if you do not comply with it, you may face legal risks.
Non-compliance is not tolerated for reasons such as ignorance or a website being still under web development. Therefore, by making an accessible and inclusive design, you can avoid the possibility of lawsuits and build a good reputation for the brand.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide standardization of accessible content that can meet the needs of all individuals and organizations around the globe.
Fundamentally, these guidelines are for web developers, especially web authoring tool developers, and everyone who wants to create accessible sites.
Many countries include the WCAG 2.0 as a reference for building accessible websites in their policies since it is approved as an ISO standard.
Moreover, the WCAG 3 is expected, which will support a broad range of user requirements, employ holistic testing, and enable periodic maintenance of guidelines and related content to adapt to changing technologies.
The success criteria in the WCAG guidelines consist of three levels of conformance:
- Level A – shows that a website has a minimum level of accessibility, meaning not all users with disabilities can use it easily. If a website cannot reach this level, it is certain that it is not accessible.
- Level AA – an appropriate standard for most websites, showing that the common barriers have been removed.
- Level AAA – the highest level in the WCAG. Some websites might not even be able to comply with all these requirements.
The accessibility requirements and standards are based on four principles. They are called POUR – an acronym from the following words:
It means that users must be able to perceive information from the web content. For example, if they have visual impairments, the content must be accessible with assistive technology (AT), such as a screen reader.
Users should be able to operate all the interface components and navigate them with various tools. For example, if users are struggling to use the mouse, the tab key on their keyboards or voice commands should be enough to navigate the content.
When creating web content, make it readable and predictable by using clear and easy-to-understand instructions.
Applying this principle will help users understand the website’s workflow and avoid mistakes.
Content must be accessible by various user agents, including mobile devices, web browsers, and AT. In short, accessible websites cannot dictate how the users should access the content.
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA)
The WAI-ARIA is a technical specification made by the W3C. It was created to ensure that the functionality and structure of web content and applications would be more accessible for people with disabilities. By using ARIA, a web developer can prescribe semantic information to content and solve accessibility problems that the native HTML cannot provide, such as improving keyboard accessibility.
ARIA has three attributes: roles, states, and properties. These attributes help assistive technology define accessible user interface elements on web pages and allow users to interact with these elements.
For example, roles describe displayed widgets, such as a slider and a scrollbar. Meanwhile, states and properties represent the states widgets are in, such as aria-haspopup for a menu.
Note that attributes do not change anything on the web page, except for the information exposed by the web browser’s accessibility APIs. These specialized interfaces are provided by operating systems, to help the assistive technologies gather information and interact with widgets.
There are various kinds of Accessibility APIs available depending on each device’s operating system, such as Microsoft Active Accessibility or Microsoft UI Automation for Windows, and the NSAccessibility for macOS.
Accessibility APIs include a tree of accessible objects and information called the accessibility tree. It contains information about descriptive properties, events, textual content, and accessibility.
How to Test for Website Accessibility?
Evaluating your website when it is still in the development process to see if it complies with the applicable regulations is essential. Any problems can be identified earlier and resolved more efficiently through testing.
There are several testing tools to help you check your website:
- WAVE – an easy and popular tool for developers. It identifies problems and provides a solution to fix them. In addition, it provides accessibility information with error icons and indicators on the web page.
- WebAim – use it to check your text and background colors to ensure that the component complies with the WCAG standards.
- NVACCESS – a free screen reader for Windows. It has a focus highlight feature that helps developers track focus objects on the screen. Also, developers can view the screen reader output as text by its speech viewer.
- Axe DevTools – this automated testing tool will identify and solve accessibility problems while developing your site. Intelligent Guided Testing (IGT) allows you to complete the manual test faster without being an expert.
Website Accessibility Checklist
To improve accessibility, check for the following factors to see if your website complies with the WCAG guidelines.
Alt text can provide a blind user with written information in place of images, illustrations, or charts in web content with the use of screen readers.
In short, all users should have access to the same information with or without the ability to see the images.
Video and Audio Alternatives
Providing multimedia alternatives, such as text transcripts or descriptions in audio files, will help blind users or people with hearing impairments access the information on the website.
A good accessibility example would be adding captions or providing an audio description for a video.
Ensuring that all parts of the website can be accessed by using a keyboard or the AT is essential as not everyone can use a mouse.
Site structures, such as search boxes and site maps should have logical and intuitive navigation to help users easily find what they are looking for.
It is easier for users with low vision to view your web content with high contrast color present on the website. For example, using a dark text color with a light background or vice versa will help the visibility.
However, keep in mind that every user has different capabilities. Therefore, provide the option to change the color combination of existing colors in the web browser. The minimum contrast required is at least 4.5:1 for normal-size text.
To help a user with a disability understand a web form, make sure there is a label next to the field you want them to click on or type in, for example, the form’s email address or name. Doing so will help users with AT understand what to do in that field.
Moving, Flashing, Blinking Content
Moving, flashing, blinking content such as advertisements, videos, carousels can create problems for users with cognitive impairments.
In addition, make sure that your web page has a time limit for rapidly changing content that can be adjusted or turned off, in order to not confuse users when processing information.
Note that content that blinks more than three times a second can cause seizures for people with photosensitive disorders.
A descriptive page title can help disabled users navigate between different web pages since a screen reader will read the page title in addition to any content present. You should also markup headings to help users navigate by relying on the keyboard or AT.
Some people have to enlarge letters or even change the font and line spacing when reading. Therefore, making your text zoomable without affecting the rest of the content will make your site more accessible.
When designing an interface, it’s important not to rely on color only. You have to use one more variable to differentiate information visually. For example, place an additional visual, like a border or an icon, to solve unclear directions in a web form.
Learning Web Accessibility
Having knowledge of web accessibility will help you design a high-quality website and understand the accessibility solutions.
Here are our recommendations for online courses for web accessibility with their pros and cons:
The Introduction to Web Accessibility course provides fundamental knowledge about digital accessibility. You will learn how to make a website accessible for everyone and meet international standards. It is open to everyone, including students, designers, and professionals.
- No prerequisites.
- A verified certification that can be put on your resume.
- The course is divided into specific topics you can choose from.
- Limited access to course materials with the free option.
The University of Illinois offers an Introduction to Accessibility and Inclusive Design course. It provides the core principles of accessibility and inclusive design in more detail. In addition, you will learn more about AT and the main principles for making universal designs.
This course is suitable for beginners.
- Subtitles in French, Portuguese, Russian, English, and Spanish.
- A free trial option.
- A financial aid option.
- Required payment to get the full course.
Google’s Web Accessibility course provides more technical lessons on making a page work with AT and managing input focus. Furthermore, you will learn about markup semantics.
- Good for technical practices.
- The Full-Stack Web Developer Nanodegree Program is also available.
- Only for advanced users.
Web accessibility improves your site’s user experience. Many companies and organizations have implemented web accessibility practices due to various benefits, such as an increased audience and a higher ranking on SERPs.
In addition, web accessibility is also a legal requirement.
Besides following the WCAG guidelines, it is essential to evaluate your website to avoid complex problems. Apart from using evaluation tools like WAVE and WebAim, you can manually check whether your website is accessible.
To do so, consider the following factors:
- Alt text – ensure that you have included alt text in your images.
- Video and audio alternatives – provide a text transcript or an audio description in a video.
- Navigation – make sure that you have intuitive navigation.
- Color contrast – give options to change the colors or their combination for users.
- Accessible form – provide clear instructions to a web form and label each field.
- User-friendly content – avoid moving, flashing, blinking, and time-based content.
- Text – use large page titles, markup headings, and provide zoomable text.
In addition, you can take an online course to learn more about web accessibility from EdX, Coursera, and Google. If you have any more questions or thoughts, do not hesitate to share them in the comments section below. Do not forget to use quality web hosting to ensure a maximum website performance for your visitors.