Top 5 Tips & Guidelines to Improve Your Website's Accessibility
7 April, 2020
It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to re-evaluate their online presence. Some had no presence, scrambling to get a functioning website up and running. Others were overly confident thinking they’re all set, quickly realizing that their website isn’t good enough to support the sudden traffic from their home-bound customers.
Regardless of which group your business fits into, you have undoubtedly had to consider your website and whether or not it is going to keep you afloat during this unprecedented crisis. But there is one aspect that you may have overlooked, and this could very well be the cause of your downfall.
The level of accessibility your website offers is critical to its success and should be one of the key considerations when building or improving a website. That is why we’ve come up with our best tips to help you rapidly improve your website’s accessibility.
But first, let’s understand what accessibility actually means.
What does website accessibility mean?
According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), accessibility focuses on making websites and web-content more usable by people with a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities, as well as older individuals with changing abilities due to aging.
This could mean something as simple as using the right font colors to ensure that users with visual impairment (e.g. color blindness or just poor eye-sight) are able to easily read it.
It could also mean far more complex activities, such as designing your entire UX to suit the intricate and diverse needs of those with cognitive and neurological disorders.
Now that you have at least a rough idea of what it means, let’s quickly discuss why it’s so important to ensure that your website is accessible.
Why is website accessibility important?
In the most simple terms, if your website is not accessible to all users, then you risk losing customers who visit but are unable to extract the information they require.
With the vast number of recognized disabilities, this could end up amounting to a significant loss. In the United States alone, roughly 20% of the population is living with a disability, and that doesn’t include those without recognized disabilities who have increased accessibility requirements, such as seniors. That’s a huge chunk of your sales you could be missing out on!
Sales aside, optimizing your website for accessibility can have a positive impact on so many other aspects of your website – better SEO ranking, better site responsiveness and speed, clean code that is easier to maintain – it’s truly a win-win situation!
So, inaccessibility is clearly not favorable, but is it illegal to have a website that isn’t accessible?
Is website accessibility a legal requirement?
The short answer is yes. Chances are that your country, like many others, has some form of regulation in place that requires your website to be accessible by law.
While the extent of the requirements and the severity of the punishment for non-compliance vary from country to country, it is always a good idea to optimize your website for accessibility regardless of where you are located.
If you are in the United States, you need to comply with the ADA as well as a number of other related regulatory bodies.
ADA website compliance regulations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law focused on protecting people with disabilities from discrimination in a variety of areas, including online. All businesses, whether in the private or public sector (even nonprofits!) must comply with this act.
The penalties for first-time violations range from $55,000 to $75,000, and go up to $150,000 for any subsequent violations.
With over three thousand lawsuits filed since 2017 for ADA violations, resulting in as much as $6 million spent by companies to settle these lawsuits (settlements of up to $50,000 per company per lawsuit!), the importance of getting your website up to standard should be an absolute no brainer!
Website compliance regulations in other countries
Most western countries have their own website compliance policies that follow the WCAG’s guidelines. It is imperative that you familiarise yourself with your country’s regulations, or otherwise engage an accessibility compliance consultant who can assist you in understanding your legal obligations.
Now that you hopefully understand how critical it is to have an accessible website, you must be thinking to yourself “but how do I know if my website is accessible or not in the first place?”
How to perform your own ADA compliance check?
There are some manual tests you can perform on your own to determine whether or not your website complies with ADA, WCAG, and other accessibility regulations. Most accessibility issues are so common that they can be simply observed with the naked eye.
We suggest starting by reviewing these four key aspects of your website:
- Audio, video, and images
- User Experience (UX)
There’s also a plethora of tools out there, such as WAVE and AXE for example, as well as reputable service providers that will help you uncover some of the more hidden accessibility issues with your site.
Many service providers will not only point out the issues, but will also help you fix those issues, and they’ll even provide guidance to help you understand which specific standards and regulations apply to your business.
By this point you should have somewhat of an idea if your website is accessible or not. Whether it’s a minor fixable issue, or a website that is entirely riddled with problems, below are some quick tips to help you make a start to bring your website closer in line with both legal requirements and your clients’ expectations.
Tips for improving your website’s accessibility
If you’ve taken our advice and reviewed the ADA (or your own country’s accessibility legislation) you must feel quite overwhelmed. After all, the most recent version of the WCAG requires you to meet 45 (!) different criteria.
While the journey to become 100% compliant might take you some time, we want to show you that some things can be done fairly quickly and with minimal effort, that will bring you that much closer to being compliant.
And so, without further ado, we give your our top tips to improving your website’s accessibility:
Tip #1: Always use alt text
What is it? Alt (alternative) text is the text that describes the visual content on your website.
Why is it important? A visitor to your website may be unable to see certain elements of your content (e.g. graphics). This could be due to visual impairment, a specific cognitive disability, or simply due to them using a device or a browser that blocks images.
Tip #2: Headings and structure are key
What is it? The use of headings (e.g. <h1>, <h2>, etc.) and structure to organize your content.
Why is it important? The visually impaired or those with certain learning disabilities often use screen readers to read the content of a website to them in the form of voice or braille. Using headings and correct structure makes the screen readers’ job much easier.
Tip #3: Simplify your forms
What is it? Forms on your website that require the user to input information should be simple and clear, with each field within the form labeled properly and the number of fields limited to those necessary.
Why is it important? Yet again, screen readers need our help to read the information they are communicating to their users. This is yet another area that has a clear set of standards that need to be followed.
Tip #4: Consider your linked text
What is it? When linking text to another page or website, make sure that the words being linked describe the destination of the link correctly.
Why is it important? Again, screen readers used by the visually impaired (as well as others) rely on your website’s cues. Using text that describes exactly where clicking on the link will take them, helps screen readers understand the context of the link without reading the entire page (so ‘click here’ just won’t do!).
Tip #5: Make sure you use sufficient color contrast
What is it? This one’s simple! Your text needs to be legible when being read off the screen. Make sure that the contrast ratio between your font color and background color is at least 4.5:1 for normal text.
Why is it important? If your background is white and your text is light grey, guess what? It’ll be difficult to read, even for the average users!
One more tip
Once your website is accessible, you need to make sure that all new content that goes on the website is accessible as well, including your blog articles, videos, downloadable resources, etc. Remember that all your hard work to get your website up to scratch could go straight down the drain if even a single piece of content on your website is non-compliant.
Like is the case with many companies, your website content might be managed by a number of different people, and you might even have external content contributors. In this case, it is imperative to make sure that you have a well-defined internal policy that clearly outlines the accessibility features that each new piece of content has to comply with. Make sure that this document is readily available and is always up to date.
One thing’s certain – your website can make or break your business – especially during these unusual times. This is why you must take the time to understand your website, and take the necessary steps to improve it as soon as possible.
We’ll leave you with a few key takeaways to help you do just that:
- It is important to familiarise yourself with the legal website accessibility regulations in your country and/or region.
- You can identify key accessibility issues on your website by doing a simple manual audit or by using one of the many tools available on the market.
- If there are several ADA issues that you can’t fixe on your own, don’t hesitate to contact web accessibility service providers and consultants.
- There are some quick and easy changes you can make to your website TODAY to make it a little more accessible:
- Always use alt text
- Headings and structure are key
- Simplify your forms
- Consider your linked text
- Make sure your font colors are legible
- Once you’ve completed the above steps, engage a service provider to conduct an in-depth audit and make recommendations for further improvements.
If you have identified multiple areas for improvement on your website but aren’t sure how to fix them, or don’t have the in-house resources to do so, get in touch with us now to request your initial free, no-obligation website accessibility review.
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