blind person using braille keyboard to show the importance of creating accessible web content

How accessible is your content?

When you create content for your website, what’s your prime area of focus? Many businesses think about their own obvious needs first. They want to represent their brand, show off their products and services, and convert leads to sales. However, many forget to design their websites with disabilities in mind. This excludes a significant portion of the population, not only from your content, but from your business.

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of user-centric design. But usability and accessibility are not the same thing. Website can be highly usable for a large portion of your users, and still inaccessible to those with disabilities.

We want the Internet to be an inclusive place where everyone can find what they need without undue difficulty. With that goal in mind, how can we look at our own projects and create accessible website content for anyone who might come our way? Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider creating accessible web content for your users.

Can those with visual impairments access your content?

Do you use appropriate alt text for your images? Did you properly label your forms? Have you organized the structure of your website to accommodate screen readers?

Many businesses don’t have sites optimized for the visually impaired simply because they don’t know what that entails. However, a few key improvements to your content can go a long way toward making your site more accessible.

To start, alt text isn’t a place to cram keywords. Instead, it’s a way for you to describe an image and its purpose so that screen readers can interpret it for visually-impaired audiences. Similarly, when you include links on your page, have the display copy describe where the link will go instead of just saying “click here.”

And don’t neglect your forms. Without proper labels and markers for required content, visually impaired users may struggle to understand what information they’re meant to enter. Last but not least, if you include a CAPTCHA at the end without providing a blind-friendly alternative, you’re going to have some very frustrated users.

What’s the state of your video and audio content?

Subtitles for videos are an obvious boon to all of us, particularly when we want to view the video in a public space but don’t want to dig out our headphones. But for those with auditory impairments, subtitles are key to understanding what they’re watching. Include closed-caption options for your videos, and provide transcripts of all auditory content, such as podcasts.

And for videos without a lot of dialog, create a video description to help visually impaired audiences know what’s happening on-screen.

Does your visual design depend on color alone?

Let’s say you decide to use red and green next to each other in your design. The hues you pick look modern and welcoming, but they’re of a similar saturation and value. They may be contrasting shades, but to a user with red-green colorblindness (about 4.5% of the population), they will be indistinguishable. And this will be a problem with any design that is overly dependent on color.

These factors can affect legibility as well. Think about the size and spacing of your text, as well as how it adapts to different devices. Text that is too small or too thin to read is especially difficult for the elderly, the visually impaired, and those with reading difficulties such as dyslexia.

Can your users navigate your site using only a keyboard?

Many handicapped users rely on keyboard navigation to access the internet. They aren’t able to use a mouse or trackpad. This means that your content should be accessible using the tab and arrow keys on your computer, and that the tab order should follow your content in a logical way.

Remember that if certain content areas can only be accessed by hovering over them with a mouse, they are essentially cut off for your keyboard users. And if your keyboard users have to tab through tons and tons of content to get to the main item on the page, that also doesn’t help them. So make sure to provide ways to skip ahead through some content areas so that keyboard users can find what they’re looking for more quickly.

Readability: are you writing with your audience in mind?

Many businesses stray toward overly complex language in an attempt to show how smart they are. Or (to be more charitable), they deal with complex, technical subject matter, and they want to be sure you know that they know what they’re talking about. However, much of this technical copy ends up confusing and disorienting readers. It’s too complex to be accessible.

You never know who will end up on your site, or what their reading ability might be. And even proficient readers often lose interest in overly wordy or obscure writing. So it benefits both you and your users to prefer clear, concise language whenever possible.

Accessibility helps everyone.

From a purely practical business standpoint, accessibility is just common sense. Accessible web content puts you in contact with your entire consumer base. After all, customers can’t buy your product if they can’t enter your store. We’re also confident that accessibility will do great things for your SEO as Google continues to refine its algorithm. Google already keeps an eye on things like readability and bounce rate. An inaccessible site will certainly contribute to a higher bounce rate, so improving accessibility will affect your SEO rankings in that regard.

Furthermore, we all benefit from accessible web content. A site which can accommodate a one-armed person is also more usable to a parent carrying a child, or to anyone with one hand full. Most of us appreciate subtitles on videos, and a clear and legible design helps reduce reader fatigue.

But while these things are nice conveniences for the abled population, they are absolute necessities for the disabled. By prioritizing inclusion, we empower people with disabilities to interact and contribute via the internet in ways that are difficult or prohibitive in day-to-day life. When we focus on creating accessible web content, we are able to tap all human potential. And that’s a great thing.

Published 12/09/16 by Laura Lynch