Website Accessibility: Making Your Site Available to Everyone
The Equality Act 2010 replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995, bringing with it a stronger anti-discrimination framework. It is this piece of legislation that determines it a requirement for websites to be accessible and inclusive. This is especially applicable to public sector websites but extends to service providers in the private sector too since the purpose of the Act is to protect people from discrimination at every level in society.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” – Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web).
Regulatory compliance aside, there are a few reasons why website accessibility should matter. Prime among these is that, as per the Family Resources Survey, there were 14.6 million people in the 2020/21 financial year affected by disability. This translates into 22% of the UK population, which means 1 in every 5 individuals. For many businesses and other organisations, this can represent a notable portion of their audiences. At the same time, it demonstrates commitment to inclusion, and fuels the perception of a socially responsible organisation.
But the benefit of website accessibility doesn’t just extend to potential monetary gains or societal perceptions. It has a very real, practical application too: accessible websites often have features that improve the experience for all users and visitors which can ultimately improve conversion rates. According to Intechnic, improved user experience can raise an organisation’s KPIs – which include conversions as a metric – by as much as 83%. Plus, it’s good for SEO.
How to enhance your website’s accessibility
The official recommendations for website accessibility are published and maintained by the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and are used as accessibility guidelines by both the Equality Act 2010 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The current version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is 2.1 and can be accessed here.
The WCAG guidelines are organised under four principles that create the foundation for web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. But it’s a lengthy and technical read, so we’ve summarised a few of the most important accessibility elements here:
Use headings correctly: Headings and subheadings should be used in order (H1, H2, H3, etc.). This provides a clear outline of the page and can assist screen readers with content navigation.
Provide alternative text: Also known as ‘alt text’, this should accompany images on a website. Alt text serves as a descriptive alternative to an image when the image itself can’t be seen or loaded.
Add title attributes: The title attribute <a title=””> can be used to add descriptive information about the link’s destination. This can help individuals with screen readers determine whether a link is worth clicking on.
Place important content at the top of the page. Here’s a fun little experiment: open up a website or specific page and count how many times you have to press the Tab key before you reach a section with important information. Placing important information close to the top of the page makes it easier for users with mobility impairments to find it without having to scroll too much.
Use clear page titles: However creative your page titles are, ensure that they communicate the purpose of the page clearly. For pages with abstract names as titles, consider adding descriptive text or a subheading below the title.
Disable autoplay: Automatic media, such as videos that play automatically, can be distracting and disorienting for users with cognitive disabilities. It can also be annoying for everyone else.
Avoid publishing flashing or flickering content: Flashing or flickering content can trigger seizures in individuals with photosensitive epilepsy.
Use proper colour contrast: Whether it’s navigation, link highlighting, or just plain text on a page, ensure that the colours you use to contrast with the background. This can help individuals with vision problems navigate your website efficiently.
Use form labels: Using icons or images instead of form labels might look good, but it can be problematic for individuals using screen readers. When using labels, ensure that they can be matched to the correct field.
Use resizable text: Defining text as a fixed unit (e.g. 16px) is the standard for most websites. However for visitors with vision impairment legibility can become a challenge, even when the page is zoomed in. The solution is to use scalable font sizing.
Not implementing accessibility can come at a cost
The chances of someone trawling the internet looking for websites that do not implement accessibility guidelines are slim. But there have been cases where websites have been sued for failing to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities:
- In May 2022, Electronic Arts (A) Inc. was sued by Rafael Cordero for failing to fully cater to the needs of visually-impaired users.
- In 2012 the Royal Institute of Blind People launched legal proceedings against bmibaby.com for failing to make its website accessible to blind and partially-sighted people.
While cases like these are rare, they do occur with more frequency than one might expect.
Of course, considering that websites that have accessibility measures in place tend to provide better user experiences, perform better in search engines, and enjoy larger audiences, the need for implementation hardly needs to be motivated by cautionary tales.
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