How You Can Improve Your Site’s Web Accessibility

15 Ways to Improve Web Accessibility

An estimated 15% of the world’s population has some form of permanent disability. There are also temporary disabilities — such as musculoskeletal injuries that impede movement — and age-related, degenerative disabilities such as low vision.

Disability may limit how a person can interact with their environment, including the internet. But fully accessible websites, along with assistive technology, can help users with disabilities enjoy the benefits of being online. Unfortunately, many websites have accessibility problems that prevent people with disabilities from interacting with site content.

If you take the step to make your website accessible, you might find yourself with a big edge over the competition. People with disabilities are likely to become loyal customers of websites that work well for them, and word-of-mouth marketing can be significant among these groups.

So, let’s take a look at some reasons to improve your website accessibility, along with 15 practical steps for doing so.

Illustrated laptop and mobile phone with multiple accessibility and W3C icons floating above.

3 Reasons to Improve Web Accessibility

Social Impact

People with disabilities should be able to enjoy the benefits of using the internet; however, inaccessible websites limit what they’re able to do online. Making your website accessible is the socially responsible thing to do — and 70% of consumers want brands to be proactive about social issues.

Economic opportunity

An inaccessible website can be bad for business, as 71% of consumers with disabilities will leave a website if they can’t fully access it.

Legal compliance

Websites may be subject to a number of accessibility regulations, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the California Consumer Privacy Act, and the General Data Protection Regulation. And while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to websites specifically, courts have cited ADA requirements in cases about website accessibility.

Failing to comply with accessibility requirements could raise the risk of penalties and civil action, as these examples demonstrate:

– In June 2017, a blind man sued the American supermarket chain, Winn-Dixie and won because the chain had failed to make its website accessible to blind users.

– In 2016, Target paid $6 million in damages to the National Federation of the Blind for accessibility issues that included failing to include alt tags for their product images.

– In June 2021, a judge ruled that Domino’s Pizza had violated Title III of the ADA, because its website was inaccessible to the plaintiff, who was blind.

These are just some of the legal cases involving web accessibility issues.

How Disabilities May Limit Website Interactions

Now that we’ve covered the main reasons to improve website accessibility, let’s look at how certain disabilities may impact a person’s interaction with websites:

  • Visual impairments

A person who has low vision may need assistive reading technology to understand website content. Other visual impairments — such as color blindness, or difficulty detecting contrast — may interfere with a person’s ability to read or interpret content.

  • Auditory impairments

Hearing impairments interfere with a person’s ability to interpret audio, so text alternatives to audio files should be available.

  • Motor impairments

People with motor impairments may be unable to use a mouse, to complete an action before it “times out,” or to click on small, precise areas.

  • Cognitive and neurological impairments

People who have cognitive or neurological impairments may have difficulty looking at flickering content, reading large blocks of text, or understanding complex navigation.

15 Practical Ways to Improve Web Accessibility

Most updates that improve accessibility also improve a website’s usability for all people, not just people with disabilities. Here are 15 ways to improve accessibility for your website:

Include captions and text transcripts

Any audio files, such as the sound that accompanies a video, should be available in a different format. Closed captions, transcripts, and sign-language interpretation are three ways to help users with auditory impairments understand audio content. It’s also good practice to include transcripts for people who prefer to read or who may be in a situation where they cannot listen to audio (such as when using the web at a cafe or at a library).

Use proper color contrast ratios

Poor color contrast can make it difficult for users with color blindness to read text. The WCAG recommends a color contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for text that appears over a background color or image.

If you don’t have a graphic designer on hand, the easiest way to make sure your site uses proper contrast is to use a contrast checker, a tool that scans your site’s text colors and backgrounds.

Remove flickering content

Flickering content may trigger seizures for people with disabilities, so it should be removed. It’s also considered distracting and annoying, so removing flickering content can help users focus on the purpose of your content.

Use headings to structure content

Assistive reading technology scans content for headings to interpret the structure of a webpage. Make sure headings follow the correct hierarchy, starting with a title, then H1, then H2 headings for all subheadings. You can include H3 and H4 headings under H2s, if it works with the structure of your content.

Simplify website designs

Complex website designs may be challenging for people with cognitive or neurological disabilities. A clean and simple website design helps users of all abilities understand content and see important page elements, like calls to action and form fields. Simpler website designs also can reduce bounce rate, improve conversions, and make mobile browsing easier.

Add image alt text

Screen readers cannot interpret images, unless images have accompanying alt text. This type of text also helps search engine bots “see” images on a page and could help boost rankings for any included keywords. Most content management systems

Add labels and titles to forms

Form fields should be clearly labeled, such as: “First name,” “last name,” and “mailing address.” Forms should also be set up so that a user can tab to the next field on the form.

Offer different CAPTCHA options

A CAPTCHA is often used to prevent spam form fills, but it’s not truly accessible, as it may involve the interpretation of unusual visual information. A better approach is to set up PHP code for forms that detects spam URLs. Forms can also be configured to validate each field, so any entries that deviate from parameters can be weeded out as spam.

Make your site keyboard-friendly

Truly accessible content can be navigated without the use of a mouse. A website should be set up so that a user can move to different page elements or pages using only the “Tab” key, or with accessibility tools such as pointers. (You can actually test your own site’s keyboard-friendliness by attempting to tab through the navigation and pages).

Allow more time for data inputs

Users with disabilities may be unable to complete a form in the allotted time. Ideally, a website should notify a user when a form is about to time-out and allow them up to 2 minutes to request more time.

Avoid using tables for content layouts

When content is contained in tables, a screen reader may not see the content in the intended order. Tables should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, and when they are needed, all columns and rows should be clearly labeled.

Use descriptive link text

Screen readers cannot communicate the intent of CTA buttons, such as “Learn more.” Make sure website links include enough context for a screen reader to communicate their purpose — for example, “Learn more about web design

Include skip links

Skip links are text links to the headings on a webpage that allow users to skip to specific sections. These appear at the beginning of the page and function similarly to a table of contents. People using keyboard-only navigation or screen readers can easily jump to the sections that interest them.

Include multiple contact options

Website users may have different preferred methods for contacting a business, regardless of whether they have a disability. Give users several options for contacting you — phone, email, text, or live chat, for example.

Test and improve web accessibility

Improving accessibility is not a one-time task, especially with accessibility guidelines and regulations constantly evolving. Website managers should be routinely testing their site for accessibility compliance, using a mix of automated and manual testing.

Building an Accessible Website Is the Right Thing to Do

With few exceptions, businesses don’t need to completely rebuild their websites to make them accessible. So there’s no reason to delay focusing on accessibility.

An accessible website demonstrates a company’s commitment to inclusivity. It also presents opportunities to reach new users and improves the user experience for people of all abilities. Making your website accessible is the right thing to do.

Monsido helps companies bring their websites into compliance with modern accessibility standards. We use automated accessibility testing and human expertise to evaluate websites and provide detailed recommendations for improving accessibility. Learn more about our platform, and contact us when you’re ready to make your website fully accessible.

For more tips on web accessibility, be sure to check out our “Web Accessibility 101” webinar.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by Monsido in October 2019 and has been edited and updated for comprehensiveness.

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