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If you run a business website, you’re probably always on the look-out for ways to reach new audiences. But before you kick off your next big campaign, it’s worth evaluating your website’s accessibility first.
After all, it’s a waste of your time and resources to put content in front of readers who can’t view it properly.
In the US alone, approximately 48 million people have a hearing loss in one or more ear and more than 7.3 million Americans have significant vision loss. On top of that, around 13 million people in America are color-blind.
Making your website accessible to those users will benefit everyone. Readers with disabilities will be able to access content that was previously unavailable to them and you will get a traffic boost for your site.
So here’s how to get started.
What is website accessibility and why does it matter
The internet is a democratizing technology by design. There are no industry gatekeepers online. Anyone, regardless of who they are and where they come from, can post their creations online.
Thanks to that special nature of the Internet, incredible collaborative projects like Wikipedia or GitHub were made possible.
But for the Internet to be a truly democratic medium, we must ensure that everyone can participate.
When the Web is accessible for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability, that’s when we can truly call it “accessible”.
This might be particularly important in the case of people with disabilities. The physical obstacles they encounter in the real world can be obliterated in the online world, as long as the Web design is thoughtful and inclusive.
If you want to create a high-quality website, it’s essential to make sure that it ticks as many accessibility boxes as possible with your resources.
Making your website more accessible
Some of the rules of accessible Web overlap with rules of good Web design, SEO, and more. This means that your site is probably already following some, if not all, items on the list.
If that’s the case, keep up the good work! If not, don’t worry, these tips should be easy to incorporate in your CMS.
1. Make sure your website is keyboard-friendly
Many assistive technologies rely on keyboard-only navigation. This means that for a site to be accessible, it must function ok without using a mouse.
Accessing pages, links, and other interactive elements should be possible with a keyboard.
How to know if your website follows this rule? You can easily test this! Simply try to use your own site without a mouse.
The most often-used method to do this is by using the Tab key to go forward and Shift + Tab to go backward.
If you find it difficult or realize that some elements are inaccessible, you need improvements.
2. Remember to add alt-text to your images
Users with impaired vision often use screen readers to access online content. Alt-text is an image description that conveys the message of the image.
The screen reader will read it out loud alongside other text, thus giving visually impaired users enhanced experience of the content.
This is particularly important if the images are crucial to understanding the piece. Think infographics, political cartoons, or photographs that add to the story.
Sometimes the images are so important that the entire article loses its meaning without them. In that case, not including alt-text simply alienated the visually impaired readers.
The only exception is when an image is used purely for decoration. You can then choose to leave the alt-text empty so the person listening to the screen reader is not distracted by the intermission.
If this sounds a little bit confusing, don’t worry. As the author of the article, you will be able to intuitively tell which images are important to the readers and which aren’t.
When in doubt, it’s better to add alt-text to too many images rather than leave important ones out.
3. Don’t block proxies and VPNs
Sites like Hulu or Netflix actively block VPN users from viewing their content.
That’s because as streaming platforms they handle a lot of copyrighted materials that might be available in some countries and not others.
Other reasons for blocking proxies and VPN is to mitigate unlawful or annoying behavior. This might be done by online forums that suffer from insistent spam or trolling, or even by money transfers like PayPal.
So, why shouldn’t you block proxies and VPNs?
The answer is: unless you distribute copyrighted material or see visible harm to your site by VPNs, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Short for a virtual private network, VPN is a privacy and security tool. It encrypts the browsing traffic, protecting users from snooping governments or data-greedy advertisers.
Unless your website warrants using VPN to bypass geo-blocking, your readers are probably using it to protect their privacy.
By blocking proxies and VPNs, you might be excluding as many as 30% of your readers just because they’re privacy-conscious.
4. Pick your color scheme carefully
Reading the text on a background with poor contrast is difficult for all users, both those with visual impairment in particular. When designing your color-scheme, you should make sure that the writing stands out cleary.
You can use WebAIM Color Contrast Checker to evaluate your color combinations with accessibility in mind.
5. Be mindful of colors on action items
Color blindness affects approximately 8% of men. There are different types of color blindness, but most color-blind people find red and green or blue and yellow combinations confusing.
If you want to make certain elements of your website clear (such as the action items), it’s best to avoid these specific combinations.
For example, placing a red button right next to a green one can result in confusion. Try to stick with messaging that’s visible for everyone.
6. Enable text resizing
People with visual impairment often resize the text to make it more readable. Most browsers and devices will enable users to do so.
However, if your site doesn’t support resizing, the design might break or it may be difficult for such users to interact with it.
A good habit to form is to use relative sizes. This allows the text to scale depending on screen size and other content. Also, don’t turn off user scalability as this might stop users from resizing the text in general.
You can check this feature yourself, by resizing the text on your site and seeing how other elements respond to it.
7. Add captions to videos
Remember that not everyone can hear the audio in your video material. Always add captions to videos and include transcripts if you publish audio-only content.
A text transcript can be a separate page or a word document that includes all information from audio, including dialogues and descriptions of sound effects.
Accessibility beyond the website
Now that you’re thinking about Web accessibility, it’s probably a good time to audit other forms of your online presence. Not just websites need to be accessible, your social media accounts can be too!
You can add alt text or image descriptions to your Instagram posts to make them accessible to visually impaired followers.
Don’t forget also to caption your social media videos, including Instagram stories. These strategies are not only inclusive but will also boost your social media engagement.
Website accessibility: conclusion
Keeping accessibility in mind goes a long way, both in terms of brand PR and reaching new audiences.
You’ll find that once you start viewing your content through that lens, improving website accessibility soon becomes second nature and hardly feels like any additional effort.
So why not try? 🙂