Website Accessibility Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Accessibility Guide

Today’s digital landscape is vast, reaching far and wide across the globe. This means that making your website accessible to all potential visitors is less good manners and more necessary.

You’ve probably heard the term website accessibility, but you might struggle to understand what it means. TLDR: website accessibility means creating your website so that there are no barriers to prevent access or interaction by people with disabilities.

Keep reading as we explore accessibility, why you need it, who it helps, and how you can do it. Making your website accessible not only complies with current legal standards but also lets people know your doors are open to everyone, fostering inclusivity, improving UX, and giving your brand rep a little boost.

What’s Website Accessibility Mean Exactly?

The core idea is that you want to make your website easy to use for as many people as possible, including those who may have a disability, whether auditory, visual, motor, or cognitive. When your website throws up barriers for people with disabilities, they will just move on to other websites that are better designed for them.

According to the good old WHO (World Health Organization), something like 15% of the world’s population (roughly over a billion folks) experience a disability of some sort. That’s a lot of potential people to turn away and off because your website isn’t designed to keep them in mind.

What are the Principles of Website Accessibility?

These can be summed up using the acronym P.O.U.R. According to the P.O.U.R. principles, a website must be designed to be:

  • Perceivable means everything on your site must be presented in a way that your users can both hear and see. If something is interactive, it should be noticeable to them.
  • Operable means that everything on your site needs to work right so that when users interact with it, they can navigate it easily.
  • Understandable means that you need to ensure that the information you provide and how your website works are clear for everyone.
  • Robust—users can utilize different tools and assistive tech (like screen readers) and still understand the content. Your site plays nicely with assistive technology that allows people with disabilities to use the Internet.

Ultimately, you want to ensure everyone can use your website, regardless of abilities or disabilities.

What About Accessibility Legalities and Compliance?

Good question! The legalities of making your website accessible can seem a little tricky and overwhelming, and we’re certainly not lawyers! However, there are some guidelines implemented and some regulations you should be aware of, along with some dangers of non-compliance.

The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) developed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the international standard on web accessibility, gives us some valuable information on making your website more accessible. It also ranks compliance levels as A, AA, and AAA.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the U.S. requires federal agencies and contractors to ensure information and electronic technology are accessible to people with disabilities. More importantly for you, though, and most businesses, not federal agencies, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has been used in court cases regarding digital content.

This means there has been a rise in lawsuits against inaccessible websites, with about 80% of all cases being e-commerce sites. In 2023, federal and state-filed ADA lawsuits reached 4,605 cases, up by 683 compared to 2022. New York appears to be the biggest hotspot for these cases, but any business in any state can be vulnerable.

What is the moral of the story? You must make your site compliant with these regulations to protect your business from legal trouble and demonstrate that your brand believes inclusivity is important.

Practical Tips to Increase Website Accessibility

Don’t worry, friends, we’ll never leave you hanging! Though after reading all that, it can feel a bit daunting trying to figure out where to start, the truth is integrating accessibility into your web design doesn’t have to be super challenging. Below are some of the best tips we’ve collected to help you get your website up to snuff.

Create alt text for your non-text content, like captions, images, and video transcripts. That way, if you have visitors who have hearing impairments or who use screen readers, you can still access the content.

Provide keyboard navigation that allows visitors to navigate your website using only their keyboard. Some folks may have motor disabilities that prohibit them from using a mouse.

Ensure your content is clear, simple, readable, and easily understood. Use lists, headings, and bullets to break up text and create a better reading experience. This is helpful for people with cognitive disabilities and also makes it easier for people who are not native speakers of your website’s language.

Ensure all text and background colors offer enough contrast so that visually impaired readers can still read them. According to WCAG, you should aim for a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 with normal text.

Create a website with an adaptive and responsive design that is usable on many devices, including tablets and phones. Both are used frequently by people with disabilities, and responsive design allows users to zoom in closer to content that may be harder to read.

Of course, these are just a few tips to get you started, but just by adding these changes to your website design, you can greatly increase how accessible your site is for those with disabilities. A win-win for everyone!

Need Help Figuring Out How Accessible Your Site Is?

Below are a few tools that may be helpful in evaluating and improving your website’s accessibility.

  • WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool – uses a web interface or browser extension to help you discover WCAG and accessibility errors on your site.
  • WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker is a tool for checking your site’s color contrast and making sure your text and background colors meet WCAG standards.
  • AXE Accessibility Testing Tool – another browser extension developers can use to test web pages directly in the browser.
  • Screen Reader Testing—You can use screen readers yourself, such as NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), to gain firsthand insight into what visually impaired users will experience when using your website.
  • Accessibility Insights – a suite of tools available through Microsoft that allows developers to test and make their applications accessible to everyone.

These tools can be very helpful in giving you a head start on improving your site so that it is accessible for people with disabilities and inclusive of everyone.

Still Not Convinced Web Accessibility Should Be a Priority?

Below are a few case studies showcasing the power of making websites accessible to everyone.

  • According to Access Design Studio, three businesses they reviewed saw significant benefits in improving web accessibility, including improvements in site performance and SEO ranking, as well as a broader reach, increased brand loyalty, and greater customer satisfaction.
  • According to Telerik, with some web accessibility improvements, the organizations that participated in these case studies could significantly increase user satisfaction and efficiency by reducing the time those with visual impairments spend on website navigation.
  • You can also take a page from Smashing Magazine, which chronicled the organization “Understood” and its playbook for improving site accessibility. The goal was to remove barriers for those who think or learn differently and take a comprehensive approach to web accessibility. It’s an inspiring look at what an organization committed to accessibility for everyone can achieve.

These case studies illuminate how transformative website accessibility can be for businesses. Not only are you improving the user experience for persons with disabilities, but you’re also improving your website’s performance and remaining compliant with current regulations. So, you could consider it an ethical or legal necessity or a strategic decision for your business that pays dividends.

Your Next Steps in Prioritizing Website Accessibility

Now that you understand how important website accessibility is for every business, your next move is to start implementing this knowledge into your brand’s strategy.

  • Audit Your Website—Use the tools shared in this guide to evaluate how accessible your website is currently. That way, you will have a clear path forward for making improvements.
  • Create a Roadmap – once you’ve audited your site and know clearly what needs to change, you can create a plan to make the changes, prioritizing based on how much of an impact they will have and how feasible they are within your current budget.
  • Educate Everyone on Your Team—This doesn’t just mean those involved in web development or design but also those who create content so that everyone is on the same page and understands the P.O.U.R. Framework and how it will help your business make it happen.
  • Test and Tweak—Once you’ve made improvements, test them with actual people, including people with disabilities. Their feedback can be invaluable in helping you make continued adjustments.
  • Keep Yourself Informed – as tech evolves, standards evolve too. Stay abreast of accessibility news and guidelines.

Ultimately, prioritizing web accessibility is a statement of your brand’s values and illustrates your commitment to inclusivity. Yes, it’s necessary to comply with regulations, and sure, it offers benefits as far as UX goes, but at the end of the day, it’s really just acknowledgment that the world is diverse, and so is your audience. Persons with disabilities should be able to access services and info as easily as anyone else.

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