Digital accessibility benefits everyone

Monday, 10 May 2021

Every user deserves a positive digital experience on the web. While digital accessibility was once thought of as a ‘nice to have’ element of a website, it is now imperative to ensure your website is accessible to all users. The great news is web accessibility also has many benefits for businesses.

Thursday 20th of May marks the 10th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion.

So, what is digital accessibility?

Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities.

However, web accessibility benefits everyone. Accessible and well-structured web content improves your SEO (your Google ranking) as it makes websites easier to read by people, as well as search engines. An accessible website brings about a great user experience for everyone and helps open your website to even more users.

Accessibility techniques are designed specifically to improve access for people with disability. However, they often have far-reaching benefits related to general readability, comprehension, and findability.

You may automatically think about designing for visual impairments when you think about digital accessibility. While this is a major focus for web accessibility, there are several other considerations you need to address, such as the needs of those with hearing impairments, neurological and cognitive disabilities, and physical disabilities.

For example, transcripts and captions on videos assist those with hearing impairments, using plain English helps those with cognitive or learning disabilities, and the use of calm colours is most effective when communicating with people with mental health conditions.

There are many benefits of web accessibility to businesses. These include:

  • Increased audience
  • Loyalty from disability communities who value accessibility highly
  • Improved SEO, as many web accessibility standards overlap with good SEO practices
  • Improved user experience for everyone
  • Strengthened brand image and reputation.

Web accessibility guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, often known as WCAG, is an internationally recognised benchmark for measuring the accessibility of websites. These are set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the leading group which sets international standards for the web.

The current version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is WCAG 2.0.

Under these guidelines, the principles of web accessibility are grouped under four principles which state that websites must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust (POUR).

Within each guideline is a series of success criteria that describes what a web developer or designer needs to do to create an accessible website. Against each success criterion there are several techniques that explain how to meet the requirement using different web technologies.

There are three levels of web accessibility established under WCAG 2.0. Level A is the least strict, with Level AAA being very strict. For example, to be in compliance with AAA standards, your website would need to have a pre-recorded sign language interpretation for all pre-recorded audio in media.

It is very difficult to be compliant with level AAA, so striving for a compliance with level AA is where most organisations should aim to provide an accessible user experience.

What web accessibility practices can I use?

There are a number of free tools you can use to assess the accessibility of your website.

WAVE is a suite of web accessibility evaluation tools that helps authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. WAVE can identify many accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) errors, but also facilitates human evaluation of web content.

The Colour Contrast Analyser allows you to easily determine the contrast ratio of two colours simply using an eyedrop tool. The CCA enables you to optimize your content–including text and visual elements–for individuals with vision disabilities like colour-blindness and low-vision impairments.

Here are ten things you can do to your business’ website can do to make it more accessible:

1. Use easy to read, inclusive language.

The easiest thing you can do to make your website more accessible is use simple words and grammar. This doesn’t mean using childish language but using language that your intended audience understands.

Person-first language is respectful and inclusive. A good tip is to describe the person and then the characteristic, for example, person with disability or person with visual impairment.

2. Provide meaningful links.

Clearly describing the target of your links is most important. Link text like ‘More’, ‘Open’, or ‘Click here’ are vague and do not provide users with information on the link’s destination.

Another useful tip is to communicate download formats as part of the link, such as [Word] or [PDF]. Links should be underlined and in a colour that stands out.

3. Use appropriate image descriptions.

Image descriptions, or alternative text (alt text), explains what is happening in an image for people who are visually impaired.

Most website builders (or CMS) allow you to easily add alt text when you upload your image. This helpful guide to writing alternate text for images will help you determine if an image is purely decorative and does not need an image description, or if your image provides information and functionality functional. If this is the case, it requires a short description conveying the essential information presented by the image. Having image descriptions is also beneficial for SEO.

4. Avoid using images of text.

Images of text may blur when they are zoomed in, so they are best avoided. Users are also unable to customise the text by size, letter spacing or inverting colours. If an image of text must be used, the image description should contain the same words as in the image.

5. Choose a common font.

Less is more when it comes to typography and accessibility. Choose a common font and limit the number of fonts on your website. Research is not conclusive as to whether typefaces that are serif (with feet) or san serif (without feet) are easier to read, so the choice is yours. Common sans serif fonts include Arial and Verdana, while common serif fonts include Times New Roman and Georgia.

Aim for no less than 12pt for body copy on desktop and mobile, and avoid excessive use of bold, capitals, italics, and underlines.

6. Ensure your website is easy to navigate.

Nothing is more frustrating to a website user than not being able to find the information you are looking for easily or having difficultly moving through the pages of a website effectively.

This is even more so for users with assistive technology such as a screen reader. Without navigation landmarks, users with screen readers will have to listen to the list elements in navigation every time they load a new page.

Navigation landmarks allow users to skip through the navigation if they don’t need it as they are browsing. A ‘Skip navigation’ or ‘Skip to content’ link should be provided to allow users of assistive technology to bypass the navigation and go straight to the content of the webpage.

7. Use headings and lists to give content structure.

Headings help users understand the structure of the content, and lists are easier to skim than paragraphs. Screen reader software announces the heading and heading level, as well as the number of items in lists, so using headings and lists are an effective way for users to easily find the information that interests them most.

8. Ensure the colours you use for text and background are contrasting enough.

The colour contrast ratio helps determine whether the contrast between two colours, such as your text and background colour, can be read by people with colour blindness or other visual impairments.

Tools such as the Colour Contrast Analyser check foreground and background colour combinations to determine if they provide good colour visibility. It also contains functionality to create simulations of certain visual conditions such as colour blindness.

9. Provide transcripts and captions for videos.

Automatic captioning, such as that provided through YouTube, is a great place to start, as this will provide a strong base along with timestamps for your dialogue. However, do not rely on these captions alone.  Ensure you manually edit the captions to truly reflect the dialogue and avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings.

Text transcripts only need to include the dialogue of what the person is saying. These can be provided as a word document, accessed via a link under the video.

10. Provide alternate formats for documents.

PDF’s are not considered a very accessible format for screen reader users, so an alternate format should be provided. The easiest way to make a PDF accessible is to create the document in Word.

How EPIC Assist is continually improving

At EPIC Assist, we are committed to continually improving our website’s accessibility. We work with a web developer who uses the tools mentioned in this article, as well as research and knowledge to ensure EPIC’s digital accessibility is always improving. This website currently meets Level AA and many Level AAA criteria of the WCAG 2.0.

Web accessibility is about creating one web experience for everyone.

By making your business website accessible, you are not just improving the experience for people with disability, you are also growing your customer base and increasing your brand reputation.

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