If you own or manage a website, the chances are that you will be pleased to welcome as many visitors as possible. You will undoubtedly put plenty of effort into SEO and marketing to get your website noticed and will value every visitor in some way – either personally or even financially. However, not every website manager appreciates that different people will use your website in different ways. You will agree that the internet is for everyone, and it is worth taking all possible steps to make your website as easy to use as possible, even for those that may be able to see or hear everything that you have put together. The key is a focus on accessibility, and the tips below will ensure that your website is as accessible as it possibly can be.
1. Use the Accessibility Tools in your CMS
Virtually every website uses a content management system today, as it is so much easier to make changes and updates rather than through editing code. WordPress and Drupal are among the most popular, but there are various other options out there. If you are in a position where you are starting fresh, then accessibility can enter your thought process for the choice of CMS and theme. If not, then it is important to maximise the accessibility that your CMS provides. Even if the current options are basic, you can look into plugins, widgets and theme enhancements that can make your website much easier to use.
2. Include Appropriate Headings in Content
If your focus is on SEO, then you will already know of the importance that headings play in readability scores and overall information organisation. However, they are also essential for placing the correct emphasis on different passages of content. Most screen-reading software also uses heading for navigation around a page, so the correct use of header tags will make a massive difference in 2 key areas.
3. Add Alt Text to Images
Images are another important consideration in search engine optimisation, and while they will often make any page look better, they can also be used to promote a message or add context. The visually impaired will not be able to make use of your images in the same way as others, but you can make their experience on your site better with alt tags. Screen readers are the key here once again, as they can convey the context or message that the image provides. Alt text will also override the default setting whereby images that are also links will result in the link text being read out.
4. Use Descriptive Anchor Text on Links
Anchor text is very flexible and can be used to indicate what a link is all about when contained in the text. Best practice in SEO has always involved being more descriptive than simply asking visitors to ‘click here’, and that continues for the visually impaired, who will rely on the anchor text to give context to the link in question. There is nothing wrong with encouraging a click if you are aiming to divert users in a particular direction, but you should ensure that users know where they will go if they do click.
5. Consider the Colour-Blind
Choosing colour schemes and decoration on the site is often one of the more enjoyable aspects of managing a website, but the needs of potential visitors should be considered too. Colour-blindness affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women around the world, and so it is best to avoid colours being the only means of differentiating certain page elements. Red-green colour deficiency is the most common of all and so using these colours for anything essential is bad practice. There are tools available for most CMS systems to assess the impact of your design choices on people with colour-blindness and it is always worth checking to see what impact it can have on your design.
6. Make Forms and Contact Pages Accessible
Regardless of the topic of your website, the chances are that you will be more than happy to hear from your visitors on a more personal level, and this generally takes place with the use of a contact form. Take the time to label fields in these forms correctly so that they are suitable for users of screen readers and make a point of labelling fields that are considered essential. Also, CAPTCHA verification is notoriously inaccessible, and web managers focusing on accessibility should consider an alternative if required.
7. Only Use Tables to Arrange Data
Readers who worked in web design prior to the explosion in popularity of CMS frameworks will remember how handy tables were for laying out pages. However, using tables in this way nowadays means that screen readers will have a lot to handle when reading out the page content. Stick with layout conventions within your CMS of choice and only use tables when presenting data.
8. Cater to Keyboard-Only Users
Website visitors with mobility issues may only be able to navigate using a keyboard, and so it is important to design your site with keyboard navigation in mind. In making it easy to tab between fields and scroll with arrow keys, you increase the chances of visitors remaining on your site.
9. Promote HTML Over ARIA Roles
Prior to HTML5, accessibility on a page could be enhanced with ARIA roles, which would add accessibility to otherwise incompatible page elements. Much of those functions were adopted into HTML5, which loads quickly and is more widely supported. It should, therefore, take priority when working on a page.
10. Remember Dynamic Content
If the content on a page updates automatically without a refresh, screen readers may have difficulty keeping up; magnifiers may focus on the wrong part of the page and keyboard navigation may not work. Pay special attention to making dynamic content accessible through plugins and HTML5 for the best all-round experience.