What is Website Accessibility?
What is website accessibility? When you examine your current website, do you know if it meets website accessibility guidelines? Can everyone who has access to the Internet use your site and gain access to the information you have posted? Can users who have a print disability for example a blind user benefit from what you have created? For some, making sure your site is easily read, heard, and navigated is a new concept, but website accessibility guidelines have been around since as early as 1998. Standards continue to improve and become more stringent. Designing websites with these standards in place is more and more a necessity in the marketplace. Website accessibility guidelines have been developed to continue to improve inclusiveness.
If your site isn’t compliant, you could be missing out on a large part of the population, the print impaired including the ageing population, and those with visual, hearing, learning, and physically impairments. You may also be putting yourself at risk for future accessibility audits, because not only is developing an accessible website the right thing to do, it is also the law in many cases.
Determining how to be compliant can be difficult because there are so many requirements. For a quick overview, here is a list of key guidelines to help you get familiar with the requirements:
- Make your site legible (from the size of the font to colour contrast between the type and the background)
- Write detailed and descriptive Alt Text that can be used with screen reader software to describe an image for the visually impaired.
- Include closed captioning for any video or transcripts for lengthy narrated audio like podcasts
- Ensure that your site is easily navigable using alternative inputs. People with prints impairments may utilize either the keyboard or assistive technologies that act like a keyboard to navigate your site.
For more detailed guideline requirements, read through A Guide to Understanding and Implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 or another excellent resource is the W3C at https://www.w3.org/WAI/
After understanding what the guidelines are, the next step is to check if your current website is accessible with a website accessibility checker. There are a number of companies that will do this, but there doesn’t seem to be a standardized test as of yet. PowerMapper, Wave, and ACHECKER all offer free services to see if you meet WAI and W3C standards.
Depending on your results, you may want to work on making your current site compliant, or you may want to design a new site.
If you have a WordPress site, there are accessibility plugins available, but they are in relatively early stages with minimal reviews and ratings to help you make an informed decision. These plugins are helpful, but may not make your old site completely accessible. If you want to design a new site and your preference is to develop the site in WordPress, there are templates that are accessibility friendly. Look for these templates in your search to make building your new site easier.
If you plan to work with a developer in HTML, there are specific guidelines for HTML, as there are for other coding methods such as CSS and PHP. You should make sure that your developer is fully aware of the standards from the outset of your project and designs with them in mind. It is much easier to develop an accessible website from the outset than to try to make it accessible after the fact.
One of the most important steps is to test your website with real people. You don’t want a site that is accessible on paper but still doesn’t hit the mark. This step doesn’t need to be your last step. Engage people throughout your design process to work up to the best possible finished product.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”.
— Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web