You probably watched the recent Paralympics in Brazil and saw some of the extraordinary athletes, and often heard the over-quoted superhuman tagline. However, for these ‘Superhumans’ and millions of other people with disabilities across the globe, there is one area that can be incredibly tricky or impossible to access, and that’s the web.
Web accessibility isn’t just about changing the text size and contrast; there are many ways in which your audience will view your website. People who have visual impairments will most likely use screen readers, a piece of assistive technology that reads everything on screen as you navigate the computer and the web. Others with conditions such as dyslexia will use different types of screen readers that allow them to pick and choose some sections to read. Many individuals can only access content written in clear straightforward English. Subtitles also help with video engagement. Often, the deaf community use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first and only language. You may want to consider sign supported video content to enable full participation and comprehension.
Many of us use the web on a daily basis. It has become part of our everyday lives for shopping, education, running a business or catching up with friends on social media.
In the UK alone there are in excess of 11 million people with disabilities, which equates to 20% of the population. This sizeable minority will in some part miss out on what most of us take for granted.
This article hopes to show that this does not have be the case. Through a little bit of planning, using existing technology, an accessible web experience can be achieved for everyone.
- Think Accessibility From The Start.
When you think about accessibility it becomes clear that making your site accessible not only benefits those from the disability community, but also has benefits for the wider population.
Before you start, ask yourself these key questions… Who will be reading the website? How easy is it to navigate my content? What access issues might arise? Then you can start to think about how to resolve these before they become a problem.
- Keep It Simple.
Think about your website’s purpose and what it is intended to do. Just because you have reams and reams of content, and the ability to add snazzy functions, should you?
If it fails to benefit the user experience and website function, then think carefully before adding unnecessary functions.
Is it easy to follow and find the information you need? This includes skip navigation options for screen readers to allow users to navigate quickly to individual areas of interest.
Much like the navigation, is your layout clear and easy to understand? Is there a good mix of content that everyone can engage with?
There are many templates and platforms that are available for you to build upon. What is less well known, is that there are many web builder platforms, such as WordPress, Wix and Squarespace, that have developed accessible themes so that accessibility is designed into them from the start. In WordPress, Intergalactic, Franklin and TwentyFifteen are good examples.
3. Content Is Not Always Equal.
Content is the primary reason that we engage with websites. However, it is not always widely known that content is not automatically accessible. Different content types raise different issues.
- Clarity of language
- Text size
- Font style
- Easily possible on video editing software such as PremierPro, iMovie or Final Cut Pro.
- Illustrate multiple speakers in different colours
- Moderate the speed and readability
- Consider Audio Description
- An additional narration track primarily intended for blind and visually impaired consumers of visual media
- Consider Sign Supported Media
- Sign supported videos allow native BSL users to engage fully with your video content
- Alt text
Making sure these are filled out accurately enables screen reader users to engage with all your content. A handy byproduct of this is that all images with accurate titles, alt text and descriptions will improve your search engine optimisation (SEO).
- Plug-ins Can Help.
- WordPress Accessibility
- WordPress accessibility can be seamlessly added to your website. It is free to download and addresses many of the most common website accessibility issues. These include contrasting and changing content size.
- Access Monitor
- Access Monitor enables you to evaluate the accessibility of your website through computerised testing. The plug-in produces a report of all the identified issues and calculates an overall score.
- Contact Forms
- If you use contact forms as part of your website, e.g. Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms, please be aware that these are not automatically accessible for people who use screen readers. They will often show up as blank space. To resolve this, you must label your forms. The process for the popular Contact Form 7 is outlined here:
- Avoid Captcha
- Although you may not have heard of Captcha before, you will certainly have experienced it if you ever been asked to verify that you are a real person by: entering a code displayed on screen, completing a simple arithmetic calculation, or typing the word you hear in the box below. In short, Captcha can be a dead end for anyone with a disability on the web. More often than not it will mean they have to leave your website as they are unable to engage.
- For those of you worried about spam-bots and other illicit software that Captcha circumvents, there is an alternative.
- The HoneyPot Method adds a hidden field into your contact form, providing a trap for algorithmic bots. Any submissions with this field completed are removed as spam. This is a fast and effective way to deal with spam without interrupting user experience. A more detailed account of this method can be found below.
- Seek Feedback And Continue To Improve.
One of the easiest things to do, yet often overlooked, is seeking feedback. Ask your audience if they have experienced any access issues while online, and if/how they have looked to resolve these. Further, ask them to point out any constructive criticism they have towards your site. It is not always possible to satisfy everyone’s accessibility requirements; however, this is the most direct way of helping to make the web an accessible experience for everyone.