How to Make Your Website Truly Accessible

“Accessible website.” What does that even mean? If you’re scratching your head over this question, you’re not alone. Even web developers often wonder what it really means to make a website accessible or what constitutes true A11y-compliance. The rules change somewhat frequently and it can be challenging to keep up. By the way, A11y is a common abbreviation for accessibility that I’ll use throughout this article. See? You’re learning already.

The concept of website accessibility is similar to a public space needing to be ADA compliant. According to the law, buildings need to be wheelchair-accessible by default, so people don’t have to ask for special accommodations or assistance just to enter, read directional signs, or use a restroom. There are laws that govern A11y for the web as well, monitored by the FCC under the ADA. One in four American adults has a disability, so these laws protect a vast number of people, likely some you know.

There’s much more to learn about how to make your website accessible, but not to worry. I’ll go over everything you need to know!

How an accessible website helps your visitors

If you’re someone who has great vision, hearing, and motor function, it might be hard to imagine how a simple website could not be accessible to everyone. There are quite a few barriers for some people. Let’s go over some of them.

Low Vision

Obviously, someone who is totally blind can’t see your website at all. Graphics, photos, and animations mean nothing to those with no vision. That’s why it’s important to use alt text for descriptive images, and voice overs for instructional videos.

Some people — including yours truly — are color blind or have low vision. It can be hard to see text with low contrast or in certain color combinations. For example, orange text on a blue background would be completely invisible to me. Others have trouble seeing text smaller than 16 pt or low-contrast images.

People with low or no vision rely on screen readers, or software that reads text aloud on a web page. That means that poor navigation, improper headline tags, or pop-up windows can be a hindrance to reading the content on your site.

A braille device for a computer keyboard
A braille device for a computer keyboard

Auditory Issues

Those who are deaf or hard of hearing may have no trouble reading your content or seeing your images. But if you host informational videos, they’ll have no idea what you’re saying unless you use closed captioning. Also, if you use auditory cues for alerts — like a chatbot — they’ll be useless to those with hearing loss.

Motor Disabilities

Imagine surfing the web if you can’t use your hands. Thankfully, there are assistive devices that help those with motor disabilities interact with the content on your site. There are alternative keyboards, eye-tracking software, and even mouth wands to manipulate a keyboard or touchscreen. Yet even with these devices, a poorly-designed website can be difficult and time-consuming to navigate.

Cognitive Disabilities

According to WebAIM, “Learning disabilities, distractibility, inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information” can make it challenging to access your content. For example, long stretches of text without a break can be extremely difficult to understand or retain. Flashing ads can make it almost impossible for some readers to focus on your content.

What you can do

I hope you can see what some of your visitors face when accessing your web content. Even if it’s hard to imagine or fully understand, being aware and acknowledging these issues is a big step towards making your website accessible. And maybe this sounds like too much to handle. You might be wondering how it’s possible to host a website and cover all these A11y issues. Before you freak out, I’ll show you some fairly easy ways to bring your site into compliance.

Use WordPress to build your website

If you’re using WordPress, you can already rest a little easier. Out of the box, WordPress is designed with accessibility in mind. They make it super easy to host an A11y compliant website. In fact, they have extensive documentation on how to make your WordPress site accessible.

If you use Squarespace, Shopify, or Wix, don’t assume it’s compliant just because you’re paying for it. They won’t do that work for you, so make sure you understand that up front.

Review your site for accessibility issues

There’s a fantastic, free tool you can use to assess your site’s A11y compliance. Just go to https://wave.webaim.org and enter your site’s URL. The tool will show you any errors, warnings, or suggestions so you can take action.

Although the evaluation is extremely valuable, it’s also important to review any alerts one by one. Here’s an example of results from the front page of this site:

Results from WAVE evaluation of wp-dj.com

At the bottom it says, Congratulations! No errors were detected! Manual testing is still necessary to ensure compliance and optimal accessibility.

That means I’ll still need to review the entire site to see if there are improvements I can make. It’s an ongoing process.

Are you responsible for your site’s accessibility?

Ultimately the buck stops with you, the owner of your website, to make sure it’s accessible. Knowing what it means to have an accessible website is your responsibility, and your developer’s responsibility to implement it. A good web developer will anticipate these needs. And keep in mind that accessibility isn’t necessarily a one-and-done proposition. Rules and guidelines are always changing, and it’s important to stay on top of the latest.

This all might sound a bit scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re taking steps to understand the guidelines set by WCAG and you have a good web developer to help you meet them, you’re doing everything you reasonably can.

Achieving perfect accessibility

There’s no such thing as a 100% accessible website. The most important thing is being aware that the need exists and addressing issues that hinder accessibility as best you can.

One way to ensure you’re including everyone when hosting a website is to go through this Accessibility Checklist provided by the A11y Project.

When you need help

The good news is that you can get your site into compliance yourself! Just use the free evaluation tools I mentioned, then use that information to tweak your site and make it accessible to everyone on the internet.

If this sounds like more work than you want to take on, I can help. I’ll do a full A11y compliance audit of your site using WCAG guidelines. I’ll advise on issues that need to be addressed and guide you to fixing them.

Learn more!

Sign up to receive my latest website tips directly in your inbox.

I’ll never send you spam or share your email address.
Find out more in our Privacy Policy.


Posted

in

, ,

by

Tags:

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *