Website owners design and build their sites so that they receive maximum visitors. And with millions of users relying on accessible sites, website accessibility features play an essential part in your web designing process.
However, website accessibility is determined by how easily disabled people can access or benefit from the site, system, or application. And as a site owner, you should not let their disability or cognitive disorder make it difficult for them to access an online site.
Fortunately, website compliance is easy to achieve, as long as you understand the issues that make it difficult for certain people to access websites. Once you define these issues, you can take the necessary preventive measures to avoid creating these mistakes and make your site welcome to everyone.
Why is web accessibility essential?
Web accessibility is vital in the digital world because your website is probably valuable for users. So you need to ensure it reaches most people, including disabled users. And with about 25% of Americans disabled, you miss out on their traffic and business if your site is not accessible.
Besides, with more people accessing your site, you get to experience increased traffic along with possible exponential business growth. It can also give you an edge over competitors whose sites lack accessibility options.
How can I make my website accessible?
Here are a few steps you can take to improve usability and make your website accessible right away:
Use proper content management systems (CMS)
Choose a suitable CMS supporting accessibility like Drupal or WordPress, along with an accessible theme/template, modules, plugins, and widgets. Besides, elements like video players and editing toolbars should offer accessibility features like closed captioning and accessible tables.
Make correct use of headings
Organize your content structure using appropriate headings like <H1>, <H2>, and <H3> for straightforward interpretation by assistive technology like screen readers. Also, follow the correct order of titles and do not just choose a header because it looks good visually as this will only confuse screen reader users.
Instead, create a new appropriate CSS class to match your text. Also, avoid skipping heading levels like jumping from a <H1> to an <H3> as it confuses screen reader users.
Use proper image alt attributes
Images, especially informative images like infographics, should have alt text that screen reader users will understand. The alt text should contain the message you want to convey through the image. However, it is okay to leave the alt text box empty if the image is on the site purely for decoration purposes.
Use links unique with descriptive names
Ensure your content includes links with text correctly describing where they go. Like a sighted user scans the page for linked text, visually-impaired users, in the same way, use assistive technologies to navigate and scan for them.
For example, ‘Click here’ is not descriptive or compelling enough for screen reader users to detect and click to reach your service page. Instead, it is better to say, ‘Read “services” to learn more about what we can do for you.
Make the proper use of colors
With 8% of the population suffering from red-green color deficiency, using only these colors to indicate form fields prevent them from understanding your message. Besides, other people with cognitive disorders and specific learning disabilities benefit from using colors to distinguish and organize your content.
The best way to satisfy both groups of people is by using other visual indicators like a question mark and using visual separation like borders or white background to distinguish content blocks from one another.
There are also tools to evaluate color contrast to help make your page as visually compliant as possible for people with low vision or different types of color blindness.
Design accessible forms
Make sure each form field is correctly labeled with a well-positioned, descriptive label to tell screen reader users what type of content to enter into the form field. Users should also be able to tab through the form to fill out the fields and finally click on the submit button.
The tab order should, in turn, follow the visual hierarchy. Also, group-related or similar fields based on fieldsets. It helps screen reader users keep track of progress while providing context that may be lost while filling out the form.
Use tables for tabular data and not layout
Using tables for page layout adds verbosity to screen reader users. When encountering complex tables, screen reader users are informed of a table with an ‘x’ number of columns and rows, distracting them from the content.
Besides, they may also read the content in an order that doesn’t match the page’s visual ranking. So instead of using a table, use CSS for presentation and layout purposes while making your website accessible.
Web content should be keyboard-accessible
Many users with mobility disabilities like repetitive stress injuries can’t access the content with a mouse or trackpad. They access content through the ‘tab’ and ‘arrow’ keyboard keys or alternative input devices like mouth stick or single-switch input. That is why the tab key order should be in visual order, making logical keyboard-only navigation through the content possible.
A common example is using anchor links to break long pages with common categories. This way, a keyboard-only user can skip to relevant parts without having to navigate through all the content. Also, configure pages with local menus, multiple levels, and sub-items to make the page keyboard accessible.
Use ARIA roles and landmarks only where necessary
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) are complex technical specifications that add accessibility information to elements that aren’t natively accessible. However, always use native HTML elements as many functions that used to require ARIA attributes now use HTML5.
For example, you can add ARIA attributes to your HTML and add classes to HTML to load characteristics from CSS. However, it is not enough to add ARIA attributes to make complex widgets accessible.
Have accessible dynamic content
Make functions like lightboxes, popups, and in-page updates accessible using ARIA role and alerts and front-end development frameworks that support accessibility. Video players should not auto-play, and all players should be keyboard-friendly.
All video content should offer closed captioning and transcripts for the hard of hearing. Websites with slideshows should have photos with alt text and be navigable from the keyboard. Don’t forget to check unique widgets like drag-and-drops for accessibility.
Enable the use of resizable text
Users with visual impairments find it helpful to be able to resize text. So if your site does not support this feature, users trying to resize font size may end up breaking your design or find it difficult to interact on the site.
One effective accessibility measure to adopt is to avoid using absolute units like pixels to specify text size.
Instead, you can use relative sizes to scale text depending on other content and the screen size. And never turn off the user scalability feature as it will only make it difficult for users to resize text at all.
Create accessible content
It’s not enough to just design your website for accessibility; your new content should also be accessible. It means you should do things like always entirely writing out acronyms and ensuring your links have unique and descriptive text.
Writing in plain English is also a great way of ensuring your content reaches the maximum number of people. Many people whose second language is English cannot understand complex language, acronyms, metaphors, and figures of speech.
Use large buttons, controls, and links
Make it a point not to place large buttons, links, and controls too close to each other. Doing this promotes easier usability in users with minor impairments. This is especially important for making your website accessible while you create content for mobile and tablet devices with small screens.
What are accessible websites?
The various elements to remember while creating digital content for an accessible website are:
- Not depending solely on color for navigation or for differentiating items
- Ensuring you add Alt text to all images in the code. Complex ideas should have more extensive descriptions near the image in the form of a caption or descriptive summaries.
- Functionality accessibility through a mouse, keyboard, and even voice-control systems
- Make sure you provide transcripts for podcasts.
- Providing visual access to audio information for any onsite video through in-sync captioning
- Including a skip navigation feature in the website
- Conducting a section 508 test to ensure you have compliant websites and resources
Did you know that more than 97% of the top million website homepages fail basic accessibility tests?
So it’s not surprising, so many large corporations end up facing website compliance lawsuits. Thus, it is more important to ensure that website accessibility is an ethical choice for your website.
Web accessibility involves making exceptional efforts to optimize your website to promote usability for the impaired and users with disabilities. And to achieve this, you have to design your site to comply with Section 508 requirements and WCAG guidelines and with both audience and context in mind.
And this is where we, ADA Website Compliance, can help you.
We specialize in designing and building accessible websites for legal compliance and to ensure your site is accessible to everybody. Please reach out to our experts for additional information about web accessibility features and how we can help make your business or organization’s website compliant.
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We’re always here to help.
The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.