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The path to web accessibility

More than 4.4 million people are living with a disability in the UK, meaning there is an increased reliance on the web for day-to-day tasks. From everyday communication to unprecedented (apologies) access to information, it’s time for brands to ensure their digital spaces are accessible to all. 

Web accessibility simply means allowing all people, irrespective of ability, to perceive, navigate, and interact with a website. Across the globe people rely on the digital sphere for almost all aspects of their lives, and brands need to ensure that they’re doing everything they can to make their website as accessible as possible. 

For the web to be truly accessible, websites must be designed so they account for any disability that may impact on access or functionality. These disabilities can range from auditory, cognitive and neurological to physical, speech or visual, so there’s a lot to consider when designing websites and producing content. 

But making websites accessible isn’t just beneficial to people with long-term disabilities. People using different browsers can encounter differences in web functionality, situational limitations like bright sunlight can make viewing websites harder, and able-bodied people can be affected by temporary disabilities like a broken limb. 

Here, we run through some of the key ways in which websites can be made accessible. It’s no longer a case of creativity being at odds with accessibility; the two work hand-in-hand, and it’s important for brands and businesses to embrace the move to accessibility in web development, so that their message can reach all people, irrespective of ability.

So, what does a website need to be considered accessible? 

Web accessibility operates under the tried-and-true rule of three components. The first is web content. This refers to elements of the website like text, images and markup code. Next is user agents, software or hardware that people use to access the web content. Finally, there are authoring tools – the software or service that people use to make web content, such as code editors and content management systems. 

Put simply, you need your web content, user agents and authoring tools to work in harmony to achieve web accessibility. 

 

Written content 

When creating an accessible website, written web content needs to be tailored to allow different people to understand it. Those with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities may not be able to interact with a website in the same way as a neurotypical or able-bodied person can, so content should be written in clear English with an uncomplicated structure. Use of headings, short paragraphs and standard fonts will not only allow the content to be accessible to those reading it, but it will also be easier for screen readers to interpret. 

 

Visual content 

When it comes to websites, visual content is imperative because text-only pages can often be a barrier to people who struggle with written language, as well as being a chore to most others. 

Visually led websites allow users to easily follow and navigate a site through illustrating messages using design and animation, allowing content to be conveyed without the need for long form copy.  

Images make websites much more visually appealing to users and, working in tandem with copy, can help them to better understand what they’re reading. But whilst images are helpful, they should also have alternative and equivalent text in the code so that everyone, including those using screen readers, can access the whole website and its content. 

 

Audio content 

Just as images aren’t always accessible to people with visual impairments, audio files – even those that appear alongside video content – aren’t accessible to those who are deaf. 

When using audio on a website, ensure that transcripts or subtitles are provided. By doing so, the text transcript makes the audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or (like 80% of people who watch Netflix) to those who just prefer captions. Videographers should also work to keep background noise to a minimum so that audio information can be understood clearly and without distraction. 

User agents  

For websites to be truly accessible, user agents are vital. After all, not everyone is able to navigate websites in the same way, and this is where assistive technologies come into play. 

These technologies include software or hardware that make it easier to interact with websites, and there’s a variety of them out there. We all know how screen readers and magnifiers make it easier for those with sensory impairments to access the web, but what about those who can’t physically access an electronic device? 

Voice recognition software and selection switches are ideal for those who cannot use a mouse or keyboard, including those with limited fine motor control, so user agent compatibility is of the utmost importance when producing an accessible website. 

 

Authoring tools 

The final piece of the puzzle to achieving web accessibility is authoring tools. 

An authoring tool is a type of software which allows web designers to create web pages. These web pages are coded and it’s the primary language used for creating a website. But at the moment, there is a gap in the market… Unfortunately, there are no authoring tools that support accessible design techniques – however, there are ways to work around this. 

There are simple techniques that web designers can use such as adding equivalent text to images, making sure the website’s default foreground and background colour combinations provide sufficient contrast, and allowing the text to be resized or spacing to be changed without the loss of any information. These techniques will all help to build a more accessible website and a more user-friendly experience overall. 

 

Moving forwards: the path to accessibility 

In recent years, creatives and web developers alike have achieved a greater understanding of the importance of accessibility in web development – and we now have an opportunity to not only make websites accessible to all, but to shape how people consume content, irrespective of ability. 

The path to becoming web accessible is a challenge, but thinking of creative and innovative ways of showcasing work is not something to shy away from. Creating accessible websites and content is not just desirable in the world of marketing, but a necessary step to achieving real change for a large part of society. 

We can and should be creating better spaces for our audiences – and the more we learn, adapt and take notice of emerging trends, the better the experience of our users will be and the more engaging, understandable and user-friendly our content will be. 

It is – in reality – an ongoing work in progress for all. The world constantly changes and adapts, the same is true for websites – with new features and tools emerging most days, the way we do things must be continually reviewed, to check we’re doing the best we can for the majority of our audiences. But if we’re all trying our best, that’d be a pretty good start, wouldn’t it? 

We can and should be creating better spaces for our audiences – and the more we learn, adapt and take notice of emerging trends, the better the experience of our users will be and the more engaging, understandable and user-friendly our content will be.