We cannot overstate the importance of website accessibility. Your website is often the first interaction between new customers and your business and it is a great opportunity to show them what your company is about. Making your website and web applications accessible to all web users, including those that use assistive technology, will not only increase traffic to your website and business, but it is the right thing to do both legally and morally.
It is not only the disabled population that will benefit from an accessibility optimized website, all users of the site will enjoy a simpler and more enjoyable user experience. We often acquire various cognitive impairments as we grow older, such as sight and hearing loss and the loss of fine motor skills that are important for using a mouse or touchpad. This can greatly affect the way the older population interacts with technology, and ultimately, the websites and businesses they use.
Making changes to your website’s accessibility also has financial implications. More accessibility to your website means an increased customer base. The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) website cites a 2004 case study from Tesco UK, that showed their online profits increased to £13 million per year after they optimized their website to make it more accessible.
So how can you make your website more accessible and reap the rewards of an easier to use site and larger customer base? Read on to find out.
Identifying Accessibility Problems
The best way to identify the accessibility barriers with your existing site, is to have people with disabilities use your website and alert you to the difficulties they encounter. For example, a visually impaired person may encounter too many pictures on the website with no text to describe them, meaning their assistive technology cannot help them navigate the page. Someone with limited fine motor skills may find it difficult to navigate the page because they cannot select the small icons and links used on the page.
There are several online tools and websites that are useful when identifying accessibility issues with a site. WAVE, the web accessibility evaluation tool, is available here. Just type in the name of your website and it will give you a list of accessibility errors.
You can also download an assistive technology application to your browser, such as NV Access , and use it to navigate your website with the screen covered. It will help you identify the difficulties users of AT may encounter when they use your website.
Types of Accessibility Problems and How to Solve Them
It is important to understand the different kinds of barriers faced by customers with disabilities, and how to optimize your site for maximum inclusion and participation.
Visually Impaired or Blind People
- Can your website be navigated with just the keyboard? People with visual impairment often do not use a mouse due to the necessary hand-eye co-ordination.
- Do all the images on your site have a text equivalent? If not, then someone with a visual impairment will not be able to navigate the site with their screen reader.
- Is the contrast optimized for those with low vision and colour blindness? If it’s not, these users will find it difficult to navigate. You can check the contrast optimization of your website
- Does your website have skip links so a screen reader can skip to the main content in an article? It can be a very frustrating experiences for assistive technology users to have to go through a whole menu before getting to where they want.
Deaf, Hearing Impaired and Hard of Hearing People
- Does your website use simple, easy to read text? Some individuals who are deaf from birth may have a limited reading vocabulary, not because they are illiterate but because sign language is their first language. If your content is overly complicated, they may just leave the site.
- Do you use closed captioning on the audio and video material on your site? This will ensure that the everyone can access the content. Full transcripts of video and audio content is also useful.
People with Physical Disabilities
- If you provide links in the text, is the text on the page easily resized? If it’s not, individuals with reduced fine motor skills may find it difficult to select them.
- Is the layout easy to navigate? The presence of columns, an overcomplicated layout or cascading information can be difficult to navigate.
- Is there too much need for scrolling on your web pages? By reducing the need for scrolling, your website will be more accessible for people with repetitive strain injuries and other physical disabilities.
People with Dyslexia or Learning Disabilities
- Is your text too small? 12pts is the minimum size recommended for web users with dyslexia. If your text is smaller than this, it is important that the text on your page can be resized easily.
- Is the back ground colour distracting? Individuals with dyslexia may need to concentrate harder on what they are reading, meaning a distracting back round with tiles or a pattern can reduce the information they take away from your site.
- Is there too much prose in your content? Consider breaking it up with easy to read bullet points.
- Do you use moving text? This is distracting and can be difficult to read.
With so much to consider, optimizing a website for accessibility can be a daunting task, but it is a necessary one. It makes sense for your business to ensure everyone has the freedom to use your website. Especially if you wish to reap the financial rewards associated with expanding your business to a bigger market. More readers, subscribers and potential online customers means more ads viewed, sales made and a better reputation for your business. If you would like our help to identify potential accessibility barriers or to redesign and optimize your website, you can contact Adaptable Solutions here.