How to make your website accessible for everyone
2 Feb 2022
Every website owner wants to draw as many visitors as possible. Nevertheless, few carry out the steps needed to ensure everyone can operate their website. Millions of users and potential customers depend on websites being accessible. If you don't take the time to meet their needs, they (and you) will be missing out.
Fortunately, accessibility can be simple to achieve. First, you need to understand what can make a site hard, or even impossible, for some people to use.
Once you understand the challenges your website presents, you can make changes and create a site that works for all visitors.
Read on to find out what accessibility is, why you need to think about it and how to ensure your website is accessible for all.
What is website accessibility, and why does it matter?
According to the WHO, there are currently more than 1 billion disabled people globally, and the number is growing. Millions of these people are internet users, with some relying on the internet for their day to day tasks. Creating an accessible website means your website and mobile apps can be accessed and used by everyone regardless of barriers. When assessing accessibility, consider how users will successfully navigate your website if they have (for example) visual, hearing, motor or cognitive impairments.
Accessibility is about everyone, not just disabled users. The improvements you make to your site benefit all of your users and improve your SEO. Therefore, it is vital to undertake accessibility audits and updates so that your business grows online.
For public sector websites, accessibility is not just good practice, but a legal requirement. Public sector organisations must show that their website is 'perceivable, operable, understandable and robust' for all users.
Assistive technologies such as screen readers, alternative keyboards or speech recognition software help people with disabilities to browse the web, however, a well designed accessible site will make it easier for people to browse.
How to make your site accessible
Add Alt text to images
Adding Alt text to images means that if your image fails to load due to slow internet speeds, the image's description appears in its place. This means that visitors will see a description of what should have been displayed. Screen readers use Alt text to read users a description of the image, benefitting, for example, visually impaired visitors to your site. Alt text also helps improve your site's SEO; it is a straightforward change that enhances your website performance.
Consider the colours you use
Colour blindness is a spectrum condition where users perceive colours and contrasts differently. Therefore you should ensure the colours used on your website are easy to view for all. For example, using light text on a dark background, avoiding red and black or red and green combinations (these are the most difficult for people who have colour blindness to distinguish), or using blocks rather than patterns will help all users to view the text in the way you want them to. Using contrast checker sites help optimise your colour choices for all users.
Make use of header tags
Using H1, H2 and paragraphs within your website means your text flows correctly and is easier to understand for those with cognitive disabilities or for screen reader users to differentiate text. This leads to easier navigation around the page. Breaking up your content and not having too many words within each section enhances the user experience. The correct use of headers, shorter sentences, and avoiding confusing technical terminology will also improve your SEO score.
Avoid autoplay and auto navigation
In legal requirementthis article, I explained why you should avoid using autoplay or auto navigation, but from an accessibility perspective, it is even more vital to avoid. Autoplay could be confusing if the user is using a screen-reader or could startle users if a video auto-plays unexpectedly. The use of auto navigation or carousels may slow your site down or move too quickly for someone to read. By having static text, users can read it at their own pace rather than the pace you dictate.
Test your accessibility
After making changes to your website, it is crucial to check whether these amendments have done enough to make your website accessible. There are website tools and add ons available that access the accessibility of your website; below I have shared some examples of tools I find work well.
Google Lighthouse is an open-source tool that generates reports on five aspects of your web page. It is a free tool, which assesses site speed, accessibility, performance, SEO and best practices. Anyone can run this report on any website, so it is worth checking your site to see how your site is scoring. Semrush has a full explanation of how you can use it to benefit your business.
Hotjar is a fantastic tool that allows you to see how your customers behave on your website. It is a heat map showing where users click or even hover their mouse. You can see where people click the most, how long they stay in that spot, discover what attracts your users, and so much more. Various plans are available, with the basic one being free.
User testing sites such as Maze allows you to gather quantitative data on how your users use your site. From heat maps to bounce rates, it looks at how your users behave on your website and generates a report so you can see your usability score.
Alternatively, you can ask your users their thoughts on your website. There is nothing better than first-hand user feedback about their experience of using your website. You could send an email or use a questionnaire; just be mindful that you comply with GDPR or are not annoying users with pop-ups.
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