How to Make Your Website More Accessible
For about two years now, companies operating out of Ontario have had to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This applies to websites because access to information and communications must be barrier-free for people with disabilities.
Other provincial jurisdictions have similar requirements, and most, including Ontario, rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the not-for-profit World Wide Web Consortium. The guidelines are a technical standard that explains how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
But even if there are no mandatory web accessibility requirements in your province, you should still consider making your website accessible because it’s a good business practice – with a number of additional benefits, including:
- Potential for greater return on investment – More people interacting with your site means more business, so it’s in your company’s best interest to ensure that the 13.7% of the Canadian population who have a disability can view and navigate your website with ease.
- Better experience on mobile devices – A well-designed, accessible website will look much better to users using phones or tablets to surf the web.
- Potential for higher search rankings – The additional information you add to your site to make it accessible to people with disabilities also makes it easier for search engines to understand and properly index your content, giving your pages a boost in organic search performance.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the fundamental steps you should undertake to ensure your website follows best practices in accessibility:
1. Evaluate your site and its content.
There are a number of ways you can determine the degree to which your website and content may already meet WCAG accessibility standards. These include:
- An automatic assessment using evaluation tools that identify a wide variety of accessibility issues.
- A manual assessment by the people working on your site or contracted web experts who will identify issues missed by an automated approach.
- Using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, while browsing your site to make sure that people using such tools are not encountering difficulties that you can’t see.
2. Start implementing changes to your site.
Some of the most common accessibility barriers are easy to avoid, and doing so is the natural outcome of thoughtful website design and content development. Here are some of the most common issues you can fix:
- Provide captions and descriptive text for images, buttons and video content by adding alt text to your image tags so someone using a screen reader can understand what is contained in visual content they can’t see.
- Similarly, make tables accessible by indicating which cells are headings and rows so assistive technologies can properly present that information to users.
- Use structured content that is presented in a logical and consistent fashion, and that can be accessed by assistive technologies without losing its meaning. Good style sheets allow assistive technologies like screen readers determine the difference between headings, bulleted and numbered lists, hyperlinks, etc.
- Use a variety of techniques to help users correct errors when completing online forms. A generic “error” message is of little use to someone with a cognitive disability. The use of colour alone to indicate that information is missing may not help someone who uses a device that displays only black and white, or someone who doesn’t see colours well.
- In the same vein, avoid colour schemes that provide low contrast between text and background. People with low vision and those who are colour blind will find it difficult to see such text – as will everyone using a mobile device when viewing your site in bright sunlight.
- Avoid blinking images that might seem like a good idea to draw attention to something important because they can also trigger epileptic seizures.
- Make sure your security measures are accessible. CAPTCHAs, those distorted images of words that users are required to decipher and enter before completing a form, may be difficult for people with vision impairment to use. Adding an audio component helps but still defeats the purpose for people with multiple disabilities. Instead, ask users to answer a simple question. If you’re using a time limit for security reasons, allow your users to extend the limit if they need to.
- Use descriptive links when linking to other content. For example, rather than having your link simply state, “click here,” have it state “click here to register,” or simply, “register.”
3. Test your new or updated site regularly to maintain compliance.
Use the same evaluation tools described earlier to make sure your new site or refreshed content is now accessible. You can also ask people with disabilities to test your new site to confirm its accessibility.
And of course, as you add new content to your site, make sure it continues to conform to WCAG standards.
The bottom line
Making sure your website is accessible is not just a mandatory requirement in many jurisdictions, it’s also good business – especially if your site drives sales through eCommerce. The good news is that a best-practices approach to website design and content development will inherently avoid many of the issues described here.
Is your website accessible? Does it conform to the WCAG standard? Please share your experiences in our comments section.