When you’re designing your website, you want it to be as easy as possible for every member of your audience to use. You don’t want to exclude someone because they’re colour-blind, can’t comfortably use a mouse or trackpad because of paralysis or tremors, have limited bandwidth to download webpages, or are not first-language English speakers.
This is where the idea of website accessibility comes into play. “Accessibility” is all about making sure your web designs cater for as many users as possible. As difficult as that sounds, there are some painless ways to make your website more intuitive and easier for people to use. Not only is this helpful to people with disabilities, it can also improve the overall usability and design of your website.
Here are seven ways that you can make your website accessible to a wider audience:
- Watch your use of fonts and colour.
- Use headers and sub-headers for structure.
- Provide alt-text for images.
- Offer transcripts of videos and audio files.
- Allow users to navigate without a mouse.
- Use responsive design.
- Write in plain language.
Let’s take a closer look at the tips.
1. Watch your use of fonts and colour
A significant proportion of the visitors to your website will have some form of vision impairment – an estimated 8% of men in the world are colour-blind, for example, and many people will battle to read tiny fonts or white text on a red background. In general, a design with high-colour contrast will be more accessible, larger fonts with a heavier weight will be more readable and most people will find some white space to be friendlier than walls of unbroken text.
2. Use headers and sub-headers for structure
Some blind people use a screen reader to navigate websites. Make it easy for screen readers to use heading structure to navigate content. If you make good use of headings, readers will be able to easily navigate your content. Additionally, make sure that each page title is unique and that it accurately and briefly describes the content of the page.
3. Provide alt-text for images
Alternative text is a description of an image on your website that can tell visually impaired visitors or people who have images turned off, what the picture is. For example, it can tell them that they would be looking at a graph showing a 10% increase in revenues for the year or a picture of your company’s headquarters. This ensures that they don’t miss out on important information that you’re conveying in a visual format.
4. Offer transcripts of videos and audio files
Podcasts, online videos and other multimedia formats can be an engaging way to convey a lot of information in a short time. But these formats are not necessarily well suited to people with hearing or visual impairments. Why not include a transcript of the content for the benefit of deaf users, and also for those who prefer reading to watching or listening? For videos, you can add subtitles so people with sound off or hearing impairments can read the info.
5. Allow users to navigate without a mouse
Strive to make your site workable from a keyboard for people who cannot use a mouse, such as older users with severe arthritis and people lacking fine motor control. If your site is workable from a keyboard, it will also be workable from an assistive technology that mimics a keyboard, such as speech input. Ideally, menus, mouseover information, collapsible accordions, and media players should all be accessible from a keyboard.
6. Use responsive design
You should use a template or design that takes the end-user’s device into account. For example, it will adapt the display to different zoom states and viewport sizes, such as on a full-screen PC browser, smartphone and tablets. Responsive design and accessibility are not synonymous – but making a website that works equally for people with a range of impairments is a step towards accessibility.
7. Write in plain language
Unless you’re writing for a niche, technical audience, you should adopt plain language principles for your content.
Some tips are to:
- Use short, clear sentences and paragraphs.
- Avoid big words and jargon when simple words and phrases will do.
- Provide a glossary for terms that readers may not know.
- Use lists, headings and pull quotes to highlight important info.
- Make use of images, illustrations, video, audio, and tables when these would be easier to understand than text.
Building a better website
User accessibility comes down to some simple principles: Don’t alienate your users; cater to them; and include everyone. This will not only help users that aren’t currently able to access your site, but also make you website more welcoming to everyone else.