As an able-bodied individual, you have probably visited countless websites and judged them on aspects like design, layout, and content. But do you ever think of how websites look and function for someone who can’t see the same things that you can? Enter web accessibility. For some time, and especially in the past year, litigators have been cracking down on web accessibility compliance. In this blog, we’ll talk about what web accessibility is, who it affects, common challenges with it, and how to fix your website to accommodate it (if necessary).
What is web accessibility?
To some people, the term “web accessibility” is a somewhat new and foreign term. Like the real world, the web has its share of barriers that make it difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. The Web Accessibility Initiative refers to web accessibility as “websites, tools, and technologies designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.” As a website design and development firm, it’s our job to make the web as accessible as possible for these people – for everyone.
Who does it benefit?
People can have varying disabilities that impair their access to the web, including visual, auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and more. However, it’s a common misconception that web accessibility only benefits people with disabilities. While it certainly does, it also benefits all people – those who are aging, have a temporary disability, or other limitation. Users browse the web from a variety of devices, screen sizes, internet connections, and personal situations. The aim of web accessibility is to simply provide everyone a positive user experience, regardless of their situation.
Website accessibility lawsuits
Web accessibility has been a hot topic as of late due to the climbing number of lawsuits involving it. According to ADA Title III, there were at least 814 federal lawsuits made in 2017 involving allegedly inaccessible websites. Causes of inaccessibility could be insufficient/lack of alt text on images, improper link styling, videos without closed captioning, or many other issues as outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The number of lawsuits targeting web accessibility will likely not shrink; in fact, it will probably continue to grow in the coming years. Web accessibility is not only human rights issue, but a legal issue.
When creating or redesigning a website, teams will have several members inputting and updating content. Of course, problems arise when content managers aren’t aware of the various standards they need to comply with. In other words, pages that were once compliant may now not be, either due to design changes or content updates. The most effective way to tackle this problem is to inform leadership and improve your training practices so that all members of your team are cognizant of accessibility standards. When everyone is on the same page, it is much less likely that something will fall through the cracks.
Preparing your website for accessibility
So, what needs to happen if my current or new website needs to be modified for accessibility? The Bureau of Internet Accessibility has a nice article that outlines most of the common problems you will likely run into. Here’s a good web accessibility checklist to get you started:
- Tab-through navigation
- Unique page titles
- Text with ample size (usually 16px) and color contrast
- Appropriate alt text on images
- Unique styling on links
- Synchronized closed captioning
Of course, there are smaller and more nuanced items depending on the content of your website, but this is a good baseline. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to make sure users can logically navigate your website with a keyboard, and that it provides strong visual cues for those with visual impairments.
Tools to check if your website is accessible
Now that you know what web accessibility is, what tools can you use to quickly test your website? WAVE has a nice free web accessibility tool that checks your page, complete with text callouts. W3.org also has a pretty comprehensive list of tools, some of which require you to provide an email to perform the audit. Another method is from right within your browser. If you’re using a modern browser like Google Chrome, you can inspect your page, go to the “audits” tab, and perform an audit with Google Lighthouse. You can test for anything from accessibility to SEO, and Google will give you some useful feedback to improve your site.
The best way to perform an audit, of course, is to assess your website yourself. Can you go through the website using only your tab key? Do images have alt text? Are links styled appropriately? After just a quick review, you may notice you have some glaring accessibility issues that you need to fix. You may even need to consider redesigning your entire website.
Web accessibility is a constantly evolving area that all designers and developers need to keep up with. There are many laws and protocols to follow, but there are just as many tools to make sure your website is up to par. Talk with your team, keep leadership informed, and make any updates necessary. You’ll find that an accessible website won’t just save you from legal disputes, but also give your users a much better experience.
Still have questions about website accessibility? Get in touch and we’d love to help you out.