Welcome to the third post in the Web Accessibility series. Up until now we have talked about what web accessibility is and why it is important as well as the legal implications of not having an accessible website.
In this article, we will discuss some of the key steps that website owners and developers can take to make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities. There are three main points to consider:
Web content refers to any part of a website, including text, images, forms, and multimedia, as well as any markup code and scripts.
User agents: software that people use to access web content, including assistive technologies like screen readers, magnifiers, and voice recognition software.
Authoring tools: software or services that people use to produce web content, in our case this would be WordPress (and soon Webflow for some clients).
The following aspects all fall under web content and this is mainly what I will be addressing:
Provide Alternative Text for Images
Images are an essential part of any website, but they can be a barrier for people with visual impairments. Screen readers cannot “see” images, so it’s important to provide alternative text (alt text) for each image on your website. Alt text describes the content and function of the image, and it can be read aloud by screen readers to provide context for people with visual impairments.
Up until now I have mainly used alt text for SEO purposes, which means it will have to be adjusted slightly to describe the image as well as include keywords relevant to the business. This is a big job but easy enough for anyone to tackle.
Use Descriptive Headings and Properly Formatted Content
Headings are used to structure the content on a webpage, and they help users understand the hierarchy and flow of the content. It’s essential to use descriptive headings that accurately reflect the content of each section, and to properly format the content with appropriate tags (such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.). This makes it easier for screen readers to navigate the content and for people with cognitive impairments to understand the structure of the page.
For me and my clients I am not so worried about this aspect as I have taken care to get the structure right for SEO bots, therefore this should be in place for the most part.
Provide Keyboard Accessibility
Many people with disabilities use assistive technology, such as a keyboard or speech recognition software, to navigate websites. It’s essential to ensure that your website is fully navigable using only a keyboard. This means that all interactive elements (such as links and buttons) should be accessible using the tab key, and there should be clear visual cues to indicate which element is currently in focus.
This is an aspect that I think needs attention. Testing this on my own website, it is mostly navigable by keyboard however it is not always clear which element is in focus. Personally this is going to be a big part of my focus when making adjustments.
Ensure Colour Contrast
Colour contrast is critical for people with visual impairments, as well as for people who are using low-quality monitors or viewing the website in bright sunlight. It’s important to ensure that there is sufficient contrast between the foreground and background colours, which can be checked using online tools such as the WebAIM Contrast Checker.
This is something that has always been on my radar and is fairly easy to fix, so I am not too worried about this for my own website.
Provide Captions and Transcripts for Multimedia Content
Multimedia content, such as videos and audio recordings, can be a significant barrier for people with hearing impairments. It’s essential to provide captions and transcripts for all multimedia content, which can be read by screen readers and provide context for people who are unable to hear the content.
Very few of my clients use video, and those that do don’t really use speech, only background music so this should not be a problem. However, now that Red Swirl is offering branding and advertising videos I am happy to say that our software provides captions out of the box.
Use Clear and Simple Language
Using clear and simple language is essential for making your website accessible to people with cognitive impairments or limited literacy. It’s important to use plain language, avoid jargon and complex sentences, and break the content into short paragraphs with subheadings.
With a few adjustments this should not be a problem.
This is a very high level look at what needs to be addressed. This article by W3C goes into more detail about each aspect. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised about some aspects, but also quite shocked at others. One very well known and widely used plugin is causing a few issues, so I am currently in contact with them to see how we can address this. I think it is fair to say a great deal of analysis is needed for each site and then a plan of action to address these issues. It is not something that is going to be fixed over night, but as long as we start the process immediately, everyone will have access to our websites very soon.
Next week I will address how we test our websites.