Websites today need to be readable, navigable, and usable for a wide-range of people. Accessibility has become an important criteria for marketers to consider when strategizing on website content structure and design. It requires a thoughtful approach to creating something beautiful, purposeful, and functional.

Accessibility covers a wide range of conditions and situations in everyday life.

There are many reasons that people might need an accessible site. People with color blindness, blindness, dyslexia, hearing loss, MS, ADHD, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. have permanent conditions that may be impacted adversely by aspects of a website that uses Flash, is only navigable with a mouse or doesn’t include a transcript with videos.

There are also many temporary needs and situations such as a broken arm, eye injury, vertigo, or repetitive stress injury that may make navigating a website difficult at times. Plus, a number of situations require the use of assistive technology that might not otherwise be needed, like being in a public place without headphones, but needing to watch a video, holding a baby with one arm, or simply everyday multitasking.

You get the picture of its vastness? So let’s focus on some of the more high-level considerations offered in a December article in The Writer along with other experts’ thoughts on this topic, to help develop an understanding and a game plan for addressing website accessibility.

Overall Design

Color contrast is an important element of a site as it greatly impacts readability. You need to make your pages as visually usable as possible. Even people with perfect vision are going to have trouble trying to decipher gray words on a white background. There are a number of tools to help you evaluate color contrast.

Adobe Flash, while officially on its way out, is problematic for screen readers. Screen readers verbally “read” a website to someone who is visually impaired. Animation and Flash features cause a screen reader to refresh and start from the top of a page causing a continuous loop.

Choose your color palette, often associated with the theme you use, wisely. Enough said.

Color

You need color mindfulness to help with effectiveness. Color blindness, for example, affects about 8% of men and .5% of women and that translates into a couple million people. For people with red-green color deficiency they won’t understand your message, especially for things like to indicate a required field in a form, if you rely on those colors.

However, other groups of people with disabilities such as those with learning disabilities can benefit from color. Designers can use color to distinguish and organize content throughout the site.

Image and Element Tags

Images need to convey context and meaning. That’s why important images need to have proper alt tags. These are descriptions that let search engines and screen readers know what an image is. When handled correctly they add value to a website. Other on-page elements such as buttons, links, and forms also need to be tagged to increase functionality for all users, especially those relying on screen readers.

Header Tags

This is really about page structure. The thought process is straightforward. If you’ve ever been in the back-end of a content management system you see different text style options like Header 1 or <h1>, Header 2 or <2>. While these impact the font size, they’re also used for creating hierarchy to the content. Visually on the page they help a reader distinguish among a title, subtitle, and content. They also indicate to a screen reader to read those words as titles or subtitles and not like regular text.

Yes, it’s a lot to consider. And there’s more to cover. These are several of the main points that can make a positive impact on the accessibility of your website immediately. It’s also worth noting that search engines favor more inclusive websites too.

Steps Toward Accessibility

Step 1

Try a free tool to analyze the accessibility of your current website. Here are two you can try – WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool wave.webaim.org or A Checker achecker.ca/checker. They’ll evaluate your URL for potential problems, including SEO, mobile device compatibility, usability, and accessibility. This will help you determine what’s working well and what needs improvement.

Have a few people in the office try to use a screen reader or navigate the website only using a keyboard. Also reach out to people with accessibility needs and ask them to participate in the testing of the site by trying to complete common tasks like filling out a contact us form or reading a white paper.

Step 2

When adding new content, be mindful of accessibility by adding proper tags to images, links, forms and other elements.

Step 3

Consider fixing archived content, if possible.  Also, when redesigning choose a current theme offered by a content management system as most new themes are built with accessibility in mind.

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