What is Digital Accessibility?
The 90’s were a booming time for technology. I can still remember the first computer we used in elementary school (that’s right, we used one computer among three classrooms). With a simplistic black and green screen, we took advantage of the five educational games available to us. This was also a time when the Internet became very popular, and it’s made amazing strides since then. In addition to the rise of technology and the Internet, the US Congress passed the American with Disabilities Act or ADA. This act stated the necessity of accessibility in private and public spaces, sidewalks and websites alike. Products and environments should be accessible to individuals with disabilities including sensory, cognitive, and physical restrictions.
It’s easy to envision a wheelchair ramp on a sidewalk or braille on public signs, but what does the ADA look like on a website? Screen readers and alt-text explain page content for users with visual impairments, and closed-captions allow those with hearing impairments to understand videos. These are just a couple of examples of how to promote digital accessibility on your own site, and you may already be using these methods. Yet, there are still many ways to expand your website’s accessibility so that everyone can enjoy your content.
How to Implement Digital Accessibility
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is your go-to resource for accessibility strategies. They’ve arranged tips into three categories: design, content, and development. Here’s a run-down of their suggestions for each element of your website.
You want your website to be eye-catching, but not at the cost of readability. Make sure that your text is legible and contrasts with background colors. For example, grey text on a white background may be harder to read for visually impaired users. Stick with darker text on light background or vice versa. It’s also common to use vibrant colors to indicate different information, like in an infographic. Color shouldn’t be the only way that you get your point across. In addition, use a guide or symbols to identify content.
Users should be able to move throughout your site without getting lost or confused. Use easy to understand naming and styling so that users know exactly where they are on your site. You should also include more than one method of navigation including site search and/or a sitemap. Sitemaps not only show users a general overview of your website’s pages, but it’s also great for indexing and SEO.
Make sure that your forms have descriptive labels and are placed accordingly. Labels are commonly placed to the left or above a field while labels for checkboxes and buttons usually hang out on the right-hand side. Instructions, confirmations, and error alerts for forms should also be easy to identify and follow.
Headings and subheadings help organize and break up your content, especially if you have a long blog post. It also helps search engines determine how to display your content on SERPs. For example, you may have multiple subsections under one heading; use the appropriate sizing to identify content hierarchy.
All graphics should include alt-text. Most CMSs include an alt-text field in the media library when you upload images, though you may overlook it. Alt-text helps users who are visually impaired to understand a graphic. Alt-text is not to be confused with a caption; this text describes exactly what the image portrays. This also helps search engines understand your pages’ content, and allows users to determine graphics when a page has trouble loading.
Just as alt-text helps the visually-impaired, audio transcriptions allows users who having hearing impairments. With every video on your site, you should also include a transcription of the information. These transcriptions are also useful to search engines when organizing your site’s content on SERPs. As with all content, make sure transcriptions are grammatically correct and easy to read.
Use the correct markup for headings, lists, tables, etc. Structured data helps users understand your site’s organization as well as search engines. With structured data, your content is more likely to appear as a rich snippet on SERPs. This is particularly important in the case of voice search. Users who are visually impaired are more likely to use voice search to browse search engines, and voice assistants typically provide the users with the first result on SERPs.
While it’s common to use CAPTCHAs for most forms, it can be problematic for visually-impaired users. Instead, WAI recommends automatic detection or interface interactions. However, if you must use CAPTCHA, be sure to include alternatives like:
- Provide more than two solutions for a CAPTCHA
- Provide access to a human representative who can bypass the CAPTCHA
- Allow authorized users to disregard CAPTCHA
Why Should You Care?
Not only do we have a moral responsibility to provide a more accessible web, but it’s also beneficial for your business. Why wouldn’t you want to optimize your traffic? About 75% of the US population shops online. It’s in your best interest to tailor your website to accommodate all users for the best user experience.
If your website is already up and running, do a simple content audit to determine areas where you can implement digital accessibility. If you’re in the planning stage of your website, we can work with you to incorporate accessibility during the development process. Reach out to us about how we can help make your website welcoming and compliant.