What is web accessibility and how to make your small business website accessible
- Author Nirveek Ghosh
- Published June 20, 2023
- Word count 1,841
Web Accessibility refers to developing websites in a way that ensures equal access and usability for all individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. It involves providing inclusive experiences for all — including people with various impairments, such as visual, auditory, cognitive, or motor disabilities.
Why is creating Accessible web content important for small businesses?
Now, you might be wondering why web accessibility is important for your small business website. Well, let us tell you, it’s not just about compliance with legal requirements or being socially responsible. There are some solid reasons why web accessibility should be a priority for any website owner.
Reach a larger audience
Web accessibility opens your doors to a wider audience. You can tap into this significant market simply by making your website accessible.
Improve user experience
Web accessibility goes hand in hand with good user experience. Making your website accessible automatically means providing a seamless browsing experience for everyone. This means clear navigation, easy-to-understand content, and user-friendly features.
Boost search engine visibility
Did you know that search engines like Google value accessibility? When your website is properly optimized for accessibility, search engine crawlers can easily navigate and understand your content. This often results in improved search engine rankings, increased organic traffic, and therefore better visibility for your small business.
Enhance brand reputation
Today, a strong brand reputation is crucial for success. Prioritizing web accessibility shows your commitment to inclusivity. This sends a positive message by showing your brand is socially responsible and empathetic.
Stay ahead of the competition
While web accessibility is becoming increasingly important, many websites are still not fully accessible. By proactively making your small business website accessible, you gain a competitive edge.
What are the four principles of web accessibility?
When it comes to making your website accessible to all individuals, there are four essential principles you should follow. These principles, outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), form the foundation for creating an inclusive online experience. Let’s dive into each principle to understand their significance:
The first principle states that your website’s content should be perceivable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. This means providing alternatives for non-text elements like images or videos, to make it perceivable by visually impaired individuals.
For example, maintaining sufficient color contrast between text and background is crucial for those with color vision deficiencies. A color-blind individual will have a hard time reading light gray texts on a light-colored background
The operability principle focuses on making your website easy to navigate and interact with. It’s important to consider users who may have physical or motor disabilities, as they may rely on alternative input methods such as keyboard navigation.
Mouse-only navigation is a very common barrier. Lack of keyboard navigation can prevent people with disabilities who cannot use a mouse or trackpad from accessing web content.
3 key aspects of operability — Provide clear and consistent navigation, avoid confusing menus, and allow users enough time to interact with content
This principle emphasizes the importance of clear and concise communication. Use plain language, avoid jargon, and organize content in a logical and intuitive manner. Provide instructions that are easy to follow. This makes it easier for individuals with cognitive disabilities, language barriers, or new web users.
Ensure that your website is compatible with various assistive technologies. This ensures that individuals using assistive technologies, such as screen readers or voice recognition software, can effectively interpret and navigate your website. Thus, you can make your website accessible to a broader range of users.
Web Accessibility and the Law
In the U.S., digital accessibility lawsuits continue to rise, with pushback from some circuit court judges. (pc:freepik)
Many countries have laws safeguarding the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, ensuring access to homes, parks, businesses, and educational facilities. While certain countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have established accessibility guidelines and regulations for specific types of websites, access to websites and web applications is not universally protected.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are freely available online, serve as a global resource for web designers and developers.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom refer to non-government websites as “public” entities, enabling individuals with disabilities to bring legal cases against businesses with inaccessible websites.
US Law Says:
In the United States, digital accessibility for government, education, and affiliated institutions is governed by Section 508. Federal websites must adhere to the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act.
In the US, public websites fall under ADA Title III, which covers Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities. However, it has yet to be updated to explicitly include websites and online applications.
EU Law Says:
Europe updated its E.U. Web Accessibility Directive in September 2018, requiring all public sector websites and applications in E.U. member states to adhere to and enforce accessibility standards. Non-compliance may result in fines and legal penalties.
Canadian Law Says:
Canada’s Accessible Canada Act, also known as Bill C-81, was created to proactively identify, remove, and prevent barriers to accessibility in areas under federal jurisdiction.
Some common examples of Website Accessibility barriers
Use of color alone to give information — Color-blind individuals may not have access to information conveyed solely through color cues, as they cannot differentiate certain colors.
No subtitles on videos — Individuals with hearing disabilities are likely to have difficulty understanding a video without any subtitles. The same goes for video content having local languages not known by a wide range of populations.
Text alternatives (Or alt text) are crucial for conveying information contained within the image for blind individuals.
Inaccessible online forms pose challenges for people with disabilities, as they may struggle to fill out, understand, and submit forms without important elements such as:
Screen reader-friendly labels that provide clear instructions (e.g., “credit card number” indicating where to enter the number).
Concise and explicit instructions.
Error indicators that alert users to missing or incorrect form fields.
Tips for making your website accessible
Use appropriate headings in the correct order to organize your content
Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) in a logical order to show content hierarchy. Start with H1 for the main heading, followed by H2, H3, and so on. Avoid skipping heading levels to maintain consistency and clarity in your content structure. Use appropriate HTML heading tags instead of relying solely on styling, ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies.
Include appropriate alt text for all images
Alt text plays a crucial role in creating an inclusive experience, enabling everyone to access the information conveyed through images. While it’s essential to provide relevant information, avoid excessive keyword stuffing in the alt text.
For purely decorative images that don’t convey any meaningful information, use empty alt attributes (alt=””) or CSS techniques instead. This helps assistive technologies skip over non-essential images and focus on important content.
Give descriptive and unique names to your links
Instead of generic terms like “Click here” or “Read more,” provide specific information that gives users a clear idea of what they can expect when they click the link. Also, avoid using identical names for multiple links, as it can confuse users and hinder their navigation.
Choose a CMS that supports accessibility
Ensure that any additional components you integrate with your CMS also align with accessibility guidelines. (pc: Freepik)
To ensure website accessibility, choose an accessibility-friendly content management system (CMS). Look for a CMS that provides built-in accessibility tools, regular updates, and features like alternative text fields for images and keyboard navigation support. Also, consider the accessibility of themes, templates, and plugins you use.
Use color with care
When using color to convey information, such as indicating errors or required fields, ensure that there are additional visual cues available. For example, pairing color with symbols, text labels, or icons helps users who cannot perceive color to comprehend the message.
Conduct tests to ensure that your website’s color scheme is accessible to individuals with different types of color blindness. There are online tools available that simulate various types of color vision deficiencies, helping you identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments.
Some tools you can use — Coblis, Stark, Toptal Color Blind Filter, WebAIM Color Contrast Checker, A11y
Design your forms carefully
There are a lot of important aspects to consider here:
Use descriptive labels for form fields that clearly indicate the information required. Labels help users understand what data needs to be entered. It’s crucial to associate labels with their corresponding form fields using proper HTML markup.
Ensure that the tabbing order of form fields follows a logical sequence. Users should be able to navigate through the form using the “Tab” key smoothly. Make sure the focus moves from one field to another in a logical and intuitive order.
Implement validation checks to provide real-time feedback when users enter incorrect or incomplete information. Clearly communicate error messages near the associated form fields, indicating the problem
Finally, verify the accessibility of your forms by testing them with assistive technologies, such as screen readers and keyboard-only navigation.
Use tables for tabular data, not for layout
Tables have a specific semantic structure that helps screen readers and other assistive technologies understand and navigate the content. When tables are used for layout purposes, it can result in a mixing of content and presentation, making it challenging for assistive technologies to interpret the information accurately.
Using tables for tabular data enhances the readability of the information. Screen reader users can perceive and comprehend the data more efficiently.
Ensure good keyboard navigation
Ensure that there is a clear visual indication of which element on the webpage currently has keyboard focus.
Make sure that all interactive elements, such as links, buttons, and form fields, can be accessed and activated using the “Tab” key on the keyboard.
The tabbing order should follow a logical sequence, allowing users to navigate through the elements in a predictable and intuitive manner.
Include skip links at the beginning of complex web pages to allow users to bypass repetitive or navigational elements and jump directly to the main content.
Verify the accessibility of your website by testing it using keyboard-only navigation.
Make Dynamic Content Accessible
For dynamic images or media, ensure that appropriate alternative text (alt text) is provided.
Utilize Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) attributes to enhance the accessibility of dynamic elements. ARIA attributes provide additional information to assistive technologies.
Best website accessibility testing tools
Accessibility is an ongoing process, and it’s crucial to regularly test and evaluate your website! (pc: Freepik)
Tricentis Testim — The top accessibility testing tool for agile software teams
Siteimprove — Best for complying with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) standards
Equally AI — Best AI-powered testing tool with real-time monitoring
accessiBe — Top AI-powered tool for fixing source code issues
UsableNET — Best network of professional adaptive technology testers for manual user testing
WAVE — Best for testing contrast errors, ARIA challenges, test size issues, confusing structural elements
ACTF aDesigner — Accessibility testing for screen readers and voice browsers
ComplianceSheriff — compliance with accessibility laws in the US, UK, Canada, etc.
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