Accessibility is an indispensable part of modern website design. Learn some basic actionable tips on how you can make your website more accessible and avoid potential lawsuits. One of the most important elements of web design today is accessibility. Essentially, an accessible website is one that accommodates all users on all devices regardless of the physical or mental ability of the user. In other words, website accessibility means ensuring that your website is designed in a way such that people with disabilities can use them. And this is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Just as the ADA requires wheelchair accessibility in physical properties like shopping malls, retail stores, and your very own business premises, it also requires that your business website is easily usable by people with disabilities.
But What Exactly Is ADA Compliance?
President George H.W. Bush introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 which obligates businesses to meet the basic accessibility needs of all the customers they serve.It’s 2019, and today this act extends to digital properties as well. Offering services, online or offline, that are inaccessible to disabled people can be deemed as a violation.
Why Should You Care About ADA Compliance?
Although the moral component of accessibility — to attain equality for the disabled — is reason enough, ADA compliance means there are legal considerations that must be borne in mind. Failing to make your website accessible makes your business vulnerable to expensive lawsuits and appeals by advocacy groups.
As it happens, discussions about website accessibility have increased and according to a recent report, 2018 saw a 181% rise in Federal ADA lawsuits over 2017. Besides, nearly 26% of adults in the United States live with a disability.
What’s more, around 26.9 million adult Americans (or nearly 10% of all adult Americans) reported in a survey they either “have trouble” seeing, even when wearing prescription glasses or contact lenses, or that they are blind or unable to see at all.
And so, overlooking website accessibility means you are automatically turning away this potential client base before you’ve even had a chance to introduce who you are and what your business is about.
So, how can you start making your website more accessible for disabled users? Here are four actionable design tips to hit the ground running:
1. Add Alt Text for Images and Captions for Videos
First and foremost, add an alt attribute for all images on your website so that the content is accessible to people who use assistive technology. Without the alt text, visually impaired users can’t wholly access your content, which translates to failed ADA compliance.
Screen readers can’t comprehend images, so it’s vital that proper alt text is provided which describes the visual accurately. And as an added benefit, alt text also helps boost your website’s SEO as search engine bots can’t crawl image files either.
Furthermore, videos comprise of visual and auditory elements to convey the information. To make this information accessible to everyone, it should be offered in different formats. As an alternative to audio, captions must be synced with the video. For users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, captions and text transcripts are necessary.
2. Use Correct Fonts
Font style and size are major considerations when designing an accessible website. Sure, screen readers greatly help in interpreting the text for visually challenged users, but picking fonts that are easily decipherable will serve more users right from the very beginning.
For ordinary users, the choice of font style primarily boils down to a matter of personal preference and aesthetic taste. Poor choice of font style and size can give the average web user a headache or a brief eye strain, but the same font decision can determine if a visually impaired user can access your site’s content at all.
So, ditch fancy fonts for functional ones. Keep the background of your web pages light and use a simple, dark font (Medium is a perfect case in point) to prevent eye strain for users with sensitive eyes. The US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) unofficially advises the following fonts:
- Times New Roman
Other easily legible fonts include Georgia, Quicksand, and Open Sans.
3. Ensure Sufficient Color Contrast
Color contrast takes into account how well one color differentiates from another on a web page. If the colors on your site, such as the ones associated with menu buttons, do not have sufficient contrast to other colors around them, it can be challenging for people with disabilities to distinguish these features and consequently, use them.
So, by using sufficiently-contrasting colors, your website’s content becomes sharp enough for people with poor vision to read comfortably.
4. Site Navigation
You know the level of exasperation when a pop-up ad or window seems like its impossible to close, or the feeling of punching through a wall when a form is way too long and elaborate. Still, it’s nothing more than an inconvenience for the average user.
For people with disabilities, however, these obstacles are more than just a mere bother. Such bad UX can deny them the ability to access crucial data or services.
So, build minimalistic, intuitive navigation with clearly defined buttons and page elements. Also, split huge blocks of text into digestible chunks so as to not overwhelm your visitors.
Over to You
Long story short, making your website accessible boils down to improving the user experience (UX) to accommodate users with specific needs so they can fully engage with everything your website has to offer. It’s not just about complying with ADA or earning more business, but it’s about doing the right thing.
There are numerous tools listed on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to test your website for various potential accessibility issues. Thus, don’t view ADA compliance testing as an extremely complicated matter as there’s a lot you can do yourselves.
The ball is in your court, really. So, how accessible is your website? What are you doing to improve it? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.