Accessibility and website design

Accessibility and website design
Creating a more accessible website

The law now states that your business' website should be accessible by everyone no matter their disability. This is enshrined in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) [] that your business' website must fully comply with.

To ensure your business' website is fully compliant with the law, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) – the nearest the internet gets to a governing body – has clearly defined levels of accessibility that it expects websites to meet.

Divided into three priorities of compliance, the EU recommends that all business websites meet at least priority 2 to ensure their companies don't break access laws. W3C also has a website Markup Validation Service that is free to use and can point out any inconsistencies in the code your web pages are using. Other accessible checking tools you could use include Wave, Web Accessibility Inspector, Worldspace and AChecker.

For businesses complying with the DDA is not just a legal consideration, but a commercial one too. There are 7 million registered disabled people in the UK alone. Around 9% have some form of colour blindness with 21% of the population now over 65. What this means in practice is that your business' website needs to take the special access requirements of these people into account or you are simply locking these potential customers out of your online store.

Ensuring your website is fully accessible has a number of key advantages that include:

  • Your business fully complies with the DDA.
  • Your business isn't ignoring several million potential customers.
  • Your site can become a destination because of its easy access. This will be shouted across social media channels.
  • Your business will see an increase in sales as intuitive website design is now demanded by your business' customers.

The legal standpoint with accessibility has yet to be tested in a UK court. An Australian successfully sued the Sydney Olympics as the website they built was not fully accessible under their laws. The RNIB also put pressure on a number of high profile businesses to improve their website accessibility in exchange for anonymity.

The DDA is an anticipatory law, which means your business must act now and not wait for someone with a disability to complain about access issues on your site.

Design for access

Ensuring your business' website is accessible by the maximum number of visitors just means thinking through each design component you are using on each web page. For instance, visitors that have one of the types of colour blindness will not be able to access your site if it relies on colour for its navigation. In most cases colour can be used, but you need to ensure that high levels of contrast exist between the background and any text. Check the contrast of your site on the blog

Site navigation can be a major issue when accessible design is considered. Visually impaired visitors may use screen reading software that is now built into every operating system. For this to work effectively, ensure your web pages use the H1, H2 and H3 heading tags properly, as screen-reading software relies on these. Also, avoid using links that simply say 'click here'. Make all of your links descriptive, as this is what will be read to the visitor by their software. And doing this will also improve your sites overall SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

Video content has become very popular over the last couple of years. However, from an accessibility point of view, video can be a major issue for a visitor with a visual impairment. Video that auto plays for instance will clash with the screen reading software they may be using, so make sure any video content doesn't auto play when the page loads. Video should also be fully captioned, or failing this, a transcript that can be used as an alternative to the video that can be read by screen reading software.

Accessibility checklist

Accessibility should be at the heart of your website. Use this checklist to ensure your business complies with the law, and also ensures the maximum number of people can access your goods or services.

  1. Does your business really need a splash page before the homepage of your site is loaded? This can be distracting.
  2. Ensure that all images have ALT (alterative) text, as many visitors will view your site with images switched off or with screen reading software.
  3. Video content should not be set to auto play, as this can interfere with screen reading applications. Also, include captions on video and even text alternatives.
  4. Carefully consider the colour palette your website uses. Visitors with colour blindness may not be able to easily navigate your site if this is dependent on colour.
  5. Visitors should be able to change the size of the text on your website. Check that the page layout still works when the text is set to its maximum size.
  6. Any forms you have on your site should have the content you are asking for clearly marked.
  7. Does your site operate with a text only browser? Check how your site looks in the Lynx browser, as this gives a strong indication whether your site is dependent on images and graphics.
  8. Can visitors navigate your site with the tab or shift-tab keys? If not, then visitors who can only use a keyboard and not a mouse won't be able to access your web pages.
  9. Avoid the use of 'click here' and 'more' simply because they are meaningless. All of your linked text should make sense out of context.
  10. Flash video and animation is still popular, but this content doesn't appear well with screen magnifiers, so think carefully before you rely on Flash content for vital components of your website.

Accessibility may be a legal requirement, but your business can benefit financially if its website is accessible to all.