Improving the accessibility of your website

With new legislation around on the subject of Accessibility, it’s probably time you had a look at some of the basics.

Why do it?

There are a surprising number of online users who have a disability of some sort. Most commonly we think of the visually impaired but it’s more subtle and far reaching than that. As more becomes known about the number of people affected by disabilities, the more need there is for us to ensure that no one is excluded from the information on our websites.

Legislation is now in place where government websites have to comply with a minimum level of access as a starting point. How urgently you need to address accessibility on your website will be determined by a number of things:

  • Whether you are a website (if you haven’t complied yet, you’ll need to hurry on this one!)
  • Whether you are providing critical public information
  • What type of business you are: a local art gallery vs a council advice service will have very different priorities – and very different visitors.

Although you may not be subject to the latest legislation, it’s more inclusive to make improvements to your website. In most cases it will actually improve your Search Engine Optimisation at the same time too which is good for everyone really.

If you want to jump straight to details of the Government guidelines, visit the Understanding Accessibility page >

Physical disability

A surprisingly high number of users are affected by disabilities in some way. Some users may be partially sighted, some may be colour-blind, while others might be physically unable to operate a mouse and can only use a specialised keyboard. See the diverse range of disability keyboards >

Cognitive impairment and learning disabilities can also have a marked affect on how content is taken in. Care needs to be taken not only from a technical viewpoint but also when creating copy or text. Old devices and technologies can present their own challenges so make sure you take sufficient steps to minimise the chances of cutting anyone out from accessing your site.

What does it mean?

First, let’s look at what is optimal. P.O.U.R. is a useful model to tackle how easily content can be accessed.

P – perceivable

  • Visitors should be able to perceive the information and using their senses either via browser or assistive technology

O – Operable

  • Visitors should be able to interact with controls or navigational elements using a mouse or keyboard

U – Understandable

  • Visitors should be able to understand information and how to use the interface

R – Robust

  • Content can be accessed by old and new user agents, and by assistive technology
  • Meeting the requirements and complying doesn’t mean you have an accessible website!

What to improve?

If you’ve spent a lot of time and money getting your website to where it is, you may find that improving accessibility is actually quite simple.

  • Improve colour contrast – improve the legibility of text on colour backgrounds
  • Make your body text or paragraph text larger
  • Use meaningful headings and sub-headings – it makes the overall content so much easier to understand
  • Shorten or simplify the copy – this is not dumbing down, it’s more about making it a ‘translatable’. If you or your visitors are using Google Translate on your website, you’ll get better translation success if your sentence are not overly complex. Have you ever tried converting a paragraph into another language and then translating it back again?
  • Fill in your Title and Alt text for images
  • Adding labels to your forms
  • Add an accessibility plugin to help visitors skip your main navigation and go directly to the content – this is especially useful if you have a complicated navigation. Don’t make your visitors listen to another rendition of the main navigation every time they change pages!

All of these improve the accessibility and also improve your SEO at the same time – improved page structure and better descriptions make visitors and search engines’ lives easier! Of course, this is only scratching the surface, and heading towards AA compliance rather than the detailed and comprehensive AAA standard.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have several levels to them: A, AA, AAA – each of which has detailed elements and standards to achieve.

The AA standard is the current level and is a good point to start aiming for as the changes can be done reasonably easily within WordPress or other CMS. For a great overall view of what is critical, desirable and nice to have, see the 18F Checklist >

Staff or anyone who edits your website has a responsibility to make content and features more accessible. This means:

Ensure that you have the processes and software to allow staff to generate these easily – documenting the processes can help new members of staff. It’s better to make things accessible from the start so if you’re planning a website revamp, it’s worth looking at being more inclusive.

How bad can a site can be?

Here is a look at the least accessible site in the world:

This page was created to investigate the wide range of things that could be done to a page to make it less than ideal from an access point of view. Yours will never be this bad but there are bound to be areas that can be easily improved. Level AA can be accomplished in hours but AAA may take days and some significant system changes to achieve. AAA requires a lot of testing, on software and hardware which naturally comes at a cost.

We’d suggest starting with the basics and improving from there. Any changes you can make will just include more and more visitors so is a worthwhile investment.

Accessibility Software

With the latest tech and the popularity of crowd funding, there has never been a time when accessibility has been this… well, accessible. There is now wide range of devices and software that can help with the reading of online content – they can also help you test your website or app to see whether it has areas for improvement.

If you need a hand complying or you just want to improve your accessibility to include more visitors, give us a shout >