Because we work with several eye care clinics at Matt Jensen Marketing, accessibility is doubly important because the chance that someone with a visual impairment will visit the site goes from a probability to a certainty. Because of this, I’m going to focus mostly on visual accessibility, but web accessibility actually encompasses visitors with many different needs. These users could include someone with limited mobility because of a disease such as cerebral palsy, someone who is learning English as a second language, or someone who is temporarily disabled by an injury.
In short, web accessibility is as broad and diverse a topic as humans themselves. Making a site accessible can seem like a daunting endeavor, but hopefully these suggestions will get you pointed in the right direction.
Building Accessibility from the Ground Up
While I’d love to say that we can make a few easy tweaks to make your existing site accessible, the truth is that meaningful accessibility begins in the earliest planning stages of a website. But the good news is that you can make any site more accessible without learning a bit of code.
One of the most important considerations for accessible websites is making having well-structured content. You should approach organizing content the same way you would an outline for a research paper when you were in school. There should be a clear and direct hierarchy and page names, headings, etc. should be descriptive but skimmable. This makes it easier for screen readers to scan pages and makes for a better user experience overall.
Making the Invisible Visible
As web design has advanced, it has become more and more reliant on big, splashy visuals. This is great for a lot of us who were bored looking at pages and pages of plain text, but it does make it difficult for people who rely on screen readers to get the full experience of a website.
Enter alt tags. Alt tags are descriptive meta data that are used by screen readers to describe an image on a website to someone who is visually impaired. People with full vision often don’t understand how much information we get from visual cues. So while alt tags can’t suddenly make someone who’s blind see that stellar photo of your office, they can help provide context that can be helpful for understanding the rest of the content on the page.
Along the same lines, it’s important to avoid burying text within images, especially text that conveys important information such as dates of events or how-tos. Often, people try to call out important information by turning it into graphic, but that may actually hinder many people’s access to it.
Providing Adequate Contrast
While optimizing for screen readers is important, many people who visit your site may be temporarily or only moderately visually impaired and may not require the use of screen reader. These include people who are color blind, suffering from cataracts or glaucoma, or even someone viewing the website in poor lighting conditions.
For these cases, it’s important to make sure the visual elements on your site provide adequate contrast. This means that all text should have a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio with this background. There are many tools to check to make sure your website adheres to these standards, but suffice it to say that the light gray text that has been the trend all over the internet recently probably won’t cut it. (Learn more about text readability in our blog about choosing fonts for cataract patients.)
Along with contrast, it’s also important to consider text size and whether or not it’s scalable, consistent standards for links and buttons that don’t just rely on color, and whether there’s enough room between clickable elements.
We All Need an Accessible Web
Accessibility remains a murky area and unfortunately, there are no clear-cut standards that will definitively prevent you from a lawsuit. But if you’d like to dig deeper, you can start by taking a look at the full Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) established by the W3C.
But while accessibility may seem like a lot of extra work just for edge cases, the truth is that all of us will benefit from accessible websites at some point or another. Maybe you break an arm and can’t use a keyboard. Maybe you have a slow internet connection and can’t load images. Or maybe you just got bifocals and are having a hard time reading on a screen. By making the web accessible to anyone, we can create a better experience for everyone.