From catching up on the news or online shopping to job hunting or connecting with our friends and family, so much of our daily lives become available to us with a simple Google search and the click of a link. But what if these everyday activities on the Internet weren’t so fluid and easy to use?
Currently, there are over 57 million Americans living with disabilities, including visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive disabilities. That’s nearly 20% of your potential market. Over one million individuals report that their disability makes it challenging to browse the web.
This makes sense when you consider that nine out of ten websites have been designed with accessibility barriers. What that means is, not everyone who visits these websites has the same user experience.
Certain elements make it difficult or impossible for those with disabilities to use the site. Website accessibility, on the other hand, provides all users with the same opportunity to understand, navigate, and interact with the web, as well as contribute to the web.
Website accessibility has become a topic of interest in our office recently as several clients have expressed the need to create an accessible website for their company.
Admittedly, some of these concepts were new to our project management and website design/development teams. So, we wanted to share what we’ve learned with other brands that want to make website accessibility and universal user experience a priority.
Accessibility Standards to Follow
The two most well-known and closely followed web accessibility standards are the Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) and Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act.
These standards were developed through the Web Accessibility Initiative at W3C using input from members of the web development industry, disability organizations, government agencies, and research labs.
The goal is to “develop guidelines and resources to help make the web accessible to people with disabilities including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities.”
WCAG 2.0 ranks components of your website into three levels of priority to allow individuals with disabilities access. Level A – must be made accessible, Level AA – should be made accessible, and Level AAA – can be made accessible.
Section 508 is part of The Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act of 1998 which provides for a wide range of services for persons living with disabilities. The Act is intended to allow these individuals to continued employment, independent living, self-determination, and inclusion in society.
Section 508 provides the direction for accessible web sites. Section 508 instituted the first-ever U.S. accessibility standard for the Internet. Though the Section 508 standards were developed after WCAG 2.0, for the first time there was regulatory power to enforce the standards.
The Section 508 standards are legally required for any website that was created for use by any agency of the U.S. government or state government eligible for Assistive Technology funding, websites created for use by any organization receiving federal financial assistance, sites designed for using informal education settings, or commercial websites.
Actions You Can Take Towards Website Accessibility
Believe it or not, designing and building an accessible website isn’t all that difficult. Our team found that we already implemented many of these elements into every website we create, simply as part of our best practices.
Consider Your Fonts…
- use fonts that are easy to read and aren’t too elaborate
- choose a size that is greater than 10 pt
- give users the ability to adjust text resizing
Consider Your Colors…
- limit the number of colors you incorporate into your design
- don’t use color as the only indicator of action or meaning
- make sure there is enough color contrast between text and background
Consider Your Navigation…
- users should be able to navigate the site using the keyboard, without a mouse
- text links should stand out and contrast from the rest of the body copy
- use proper heading tags (H1, H2, H3) to show content hierarchy
- be more descriptive with what you say on your buttons, “Click for More” is not enough
- all links on a page must direct to a different page, no duplicate linking
Consider Your Images…
- images must be entered with descriptive alt text, this is especially important for infographics which screen readers cannot read
- use large images
- do not use icons (for example, social icons) alone, link text is necessary
Consider Your Media…
- include transcripts of videos on the page
- allow for closed captioning
- don’t use the autoplay feature
- have play and pause buttons
Consider Your Forms…
- each form input field should include labels that are not placeholders
- forms must be tab accessible to move between the input fields
How Does My Website Rate?
Our team utilizes the WAVE evaluation tool to test the accessibility of the websites we build, both the development/staging phase and post-launch.
Although humans are the best judge of whether your website is truly accessible, WAVE can identify areas that need further attention, using guidelines from both WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 standards.
After crawling your site, WAVE will provide you a breakdown of your site that calls-out errors (need to be fixed) and alerts (should be fixed). They will also identify structural elements and contrast issues that should be addressed.