accessibility: a 5 minute check-up

If you don’t work in an industry explicitly catering to the needs of the physically impaired, you might not have considered the importance of ensuring your website is accessible. Website accessibility is becoming a legal issue and a potential liability for your business. With 2 million visually impaired people in the UK alone and a further 8 million in the USA, you’re likely losing your business with a substantial proportion of the population.

Luckily, guidelines already exist so that websites can be made accessible. The ‘Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.0’ (WCAG 2.0) are frequently used as the benchmark for accessible websites, providing a detailed checklist for business owners and web developers.

A lot of businesses, unfortunately, don’t have the necessary time or manpower to check these comprehensive lists. We’ve put together a list of the most important aspects that any business owner can check themselves with limited technical knowledge.

These 5 points should help accessibility-impaired users make use of your website’s basic functionality…

Keyboard accessible

For a website to be accessible, it must be navigable through the keyboard alone, to allow users who are unable to use a mouse or other conventional inputs to operate the site. You can confirm this simply by going to your website and testing that you’re able to go to whatever content you want, using the keyboard alone with features like the tab key.

A link to skip to the main content on your site can also be extremely useful, avoiding complex navigation to get to the important information. Bonus points: If you want to take this a step further, you can break up longer pages with anchor links so that it’s quicker for keyboard users to navigate.

Contrast high contrast 

Individuals with visual disabilities may have problems with the contrast in colours used on your web page. To resolve this some websites are designed with a “contrasting” future, that will darken blacks and lighten whites making shades more definable. Fortunately, contrast is something that’s easy to check with a variety of free and online tools. Google offer a contrast analyser extension for free, or you can download a standalone programme for mac and PC from The Paciello Group.

These guidelines can help you to judge if your text has adequate contrast:

Small Text (less than 18 pt, or 14 pt bold) – Minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1

Large Text (18 pt or 14 pt bold) – Minimum contrast ratio of 3:1

Bonus points: When checking your website’s contrast, you should also test for colour-blindness accessibility, a problem that afflicts 8% of the male population. The most common difficulty is differentiating between red and green, so make sure that the two colours aren’t used as contrasts for one another, especially on forms and other vital areas of the website.

Alt tags

Many blind and sight-impaired users who navigate the internet will be doing so with screen readers, which simply read the website aloud. However, many types of content can fall short of narration, most notably links and images. When a website is built specifically for accessibility, these components will have specific labels to help screen readers, but they are often overlooked by more casual developers, particularly if you’ve built the website yourself using a publisher like WordPress.

Screen readers deal with images and links by using ‘alt text’, hidden text that will explain what the components are out-loud for users who can’t see the images or who don’t know where URLs lead. The quickest way to test your alt tags is by simply hovering your pointer over an image on your site and seeing if the text that appears is descriptive or generic. Similarly, the hypertext on links should be something that makes sense even when read out of context. Users with screen readers may simply jump between the links in your content to find a specific link, so a list of items named ‘click here’ drastically reduces functionality for sight-impaired visitors to your site.

Navigation

Since it is more difficult for sight-impaired users to navigate your site, its structure is particularly important. This is a subjective test, but simple to carry out on your own website by simply being a little critical of the ease of your website. This is also an important area to test since it will improve usability for all visitors to your site.

For your website to be classed as accessible, you should be able to logically navigate around the website without having to return to the home page. This generally means that you should have a clear navigation bar, or make use of ‘breadcrumbs’, to make it easy to navigate vertically through your site.

Furthermore, the user’s current location should be clearly visible in menus, drop down bars etc. and should clearly indicate which of the options they’re currently on. Keep in mind the earlier contrast test when demonstrating the user’s location.

Forms

Forms can be a key component of many marketing campaigns and are vital for generating leads and collecting customer data. However, if they’re not accessible, you risk losing leads. There are three basic things you should check: labelling, error verification, and error correction. Firstly, make sure that all fields on your form are labelled with plain HTML text that can be read by screen readers.

Secondly, are there basic verification steps such as only allowing an email address with an [email protected] symbol to be entered. This helps people who struggle to verify their own information, such as those with sight or mental impairments and will help to ensure that you only receive validated information from all users.

Finally, fields should draw attention to themselves if they’re empty or have failed verification. They should also be optimised to alert screen readers by displaying text, although be aware that software might ignore some common symbols, such as asterisks and exclamation marks.

By ensuring that forms are accessible, you are not only guaranteeing that everyone who lands on your page can complete it, but you will also be increasing completion and conversion rates for sales.

If you’ve passed these points, your site is accessible. If you want to take it to the next level, you should consider testing your site by the WCAG 2.0 checklist standard.

You can also get in touch with our team to perform a comprehensive accessibility audit to ensure that you’re fully compliant. Our specialist team can work to add accessibility features to existing sites or build a new site from scratch that is fully compliant with the latest accessibility standards.