How to make your website accessible in 5 clear steps

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Make your website accessible for all your potential customersI have noticed a disturbing trend in recent months.  I have developed the habit of holding reading material further and further away from my eyes.  Threading a needle has become a time-consuming guessing game, and I now routinely resize text when reading online (using Control and the + key or ++ if I’m extra tired), because for me the bigger the point size, the easier it is to read the text.

Now that I am (cough) years old, I will have to accept that visual challenges are just some of the things I will have to contend with as I get older…

But I am not alone.  The world’s population is ageing.  For example, according to the UK Office of National Statistics, by 2034, 23 per cent of the UK population is projected to be aged 65 and over – compared to 18 per cent of the population being under the age of 16.  Other countries, including the US, are following similar trends.

What does eyesight have to do with websites?

The fact is that the older we get, the more we need help to continue doing what we used to do with ease.  But visual challenges are only one piece of the online accessibility puzzle.

There are sound reasons why accessibility matters and why you should take all the reasonable steps you can to turn your site into an accessible resource.

Your customers

You could be missing out on a potential pool of customers – who may be older, disabled or may be relying on the use of interpreters when using your website. Your potential group of customers may have learning difficulties or they may be part of the growing number of web customers who prefer to use mobile devices to surf the net.

The law

You could face legal action.  In the same way that shops and offices have had to make changes, often known as ‘reasonable adjustments’, to improve physical access to their premises, so too have website owners.  Revised anti-discrimination laws (in the UK – the Equality Bill 2010) state that websites must be made accessible by allowing for font size changes to be made and for screen reader tools to be used.

5 steps to making your website accessible

Accessibility is a huge and constantly evolving part of websites, and there is a wealth of information available on this topic online, including up-to-date guidelines on international web accessibility standards under the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI), produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

To get you started, here are some key areas to work on to make your website accessible to your customers:

1) Make your content accessible to disabled users

  • Use short textual descriptions for non-text elements such as images, buttons and other graphics – for those who use screen reader tools
  • Add text transcripts of audio content to your site – for those who use screen reader tools

 

2) Make your content accessible to older users

  • Make all the functions on your website accessible via the keyboard (in addition to the mouse) – for those who use assistive tools to navigate web pages
  • Apply good colour contrasts to aid reading (e.g. black on white works well whereas yellow on white is difficult to read)
  • Make sure the text size on your website can be resized to make it larger or smaller

 

3) Make your content accessible to those with visual impairments

(Some of these tips overlap with those for older users)

  • Apply good colour contrasts to aid reading (e.g. black on white works well whereas yellow on white is difficult to read)
  • Make sure the text size on your website can be resized to make it larger or smaller
  • Limit the use of block capitals –  to aid reading

 

4) Make your text understandable to all users

  • Publish clear, easy-to-understand text
  • Use concise, easy-to-follow text
  • Use plain English text (that is free of jargon)

 

5) Make your website deliver a better browsing experience

  • Design your website for use on mobile devices
  • Test your content and functionality on mobile devices
  • Check and test your website in different browsers including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari.
  • Check your website for compatibility with newer versions of these browsers, especially as each new version is released.
  • Involve your web visitors in any planned development or design work by gathering their views and involving them in your website test plans

 

I am now going to take my own advice and make sure my own website is accessible.

The optician tells me I don’t need glasses just yet, so it looks like I’ll be making a lot of use of the Control ++ keys for the foreseeable future…if they work.

Post written by DEBBIE THOMAS on 16 March 2011.

About Debbie

Debbie

Hello, I’ve worked as a contract content designer on government digital projects since 2012 and before that as a book, magazine and website editor.
I work as part of a team of digital experts with subject specialists, producing content that works in the best possible way for users.

By Debbie

Debbie

Hello, I’ve worked as a contract content designer on government digital projects since 2012 and before that as a book, magazine and website editor.
I work as part of a team of digital experts with subject specialists, producing content that works in the best possible way for users.