May 10th, 2021

How Has Covid-19 Changed Website Accessibility?

More users are online, and that puts the spotlight on bad accessibility.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, it had an immediate and profound effect on how people were engaging with the Internet. Web traffic soared as millions of users moved online for work or school, to connect with friends and family they could no longer see in person, or to accomplish routine tasks.

For users with disabilities, this sudden shift came as a blessing and a curse. Those who had long relied on the Internet for connection with the outside world suddenly found their horizons expanded. A person who was wheelchair bound but otherwise digitally abled now had all the resources of their more mobile peers.

On the other hand, those with disabilities that are less Internet-friendly suddenly found themselves more cut-off, as their usual sources of in-person connection were replaced with online options that didn’t consider their needs. These included the hearing impaired, who were now being looped in to video meetings without captioning support, or those with visual difficulties, who had to find resources on websites not equipped with screen reader support.

Read More: Why Accessibility in Web Design Matters

Over the past year, many companies have noticed this problem and taken steps to fix it. Many others have ignored it out of ignorance, apathy, or a lack of resources. However, there are some companies who know of the problem and want to fix it, but simply don’t know where to start.

We’ve been writing about accessibility on this blog since 2016. Many of the best practices haven’t changed. What has changed is the urgency of getting this work done. Here’s where to start.

1. Identify and resolve your biggest accessibility issues first.

Some accessibility problems are more urgent than others. The worst accessibility flaws are those that actively block users from engaging with your resources. For instance, if you have an important infographic on your site containing key information for users, but don’t have a description of that information included either as alt text or as a subtitle for the image, you will have excluded blind users.

However, you may have hundreds of images on your site, and updating the alt text for each one will take time. Meanwhile, you have other accessibility issues to tackle—like adding subheads into large blocks of text to improve navigation, or including transcripts of your latest webinar.

So, before you get bogged down on the details, go over your site in large strokes. Make sure you’ve resolved the biggest issues so that your site is broadly accessible, then circle back to fine tune the rest.

Your list of accessibility priorities should include:

  • Alt text on key infographic images.
  • Removing any pop-ups that can’t be closed without point-and-click navigation.
  • Removing any outdated CAPTCHA that don’t provide alternative options for the visually or hearing impaired.
  • Including descriptions for all form fields.
  • Providing transcripts for key audio content.
  • Properly formatting headings with HTML markup.
  • Ensuring the website is compatible with tab navigation.
  • Ensuring the website displays well with magnified browser settings.
  • Include your mobile site in your review.

Some changes will be more difficult, especially if they require a complete restructuring of your site. For example, if your menu structure is several layers deep, reorganizing it may require a more thorough rethinking and overhaul of your site’s user flow. In this case, do your best, be prepared to make accessibility a key component of your next website redesign.

2. Evaluate any new tools for accessibility before you adopt them.

Many organizations over the past year have switched to new web-based tools for video conferencing, project management, and customer service. Because of the urgency Covid placed on businesses to adopt these solutions, many organizations made their decisions based on brand familiarity or appealing marketing.

However, some of these tools may be missing features that make them difficult for disabled users, while others have gone out of their way to provide accessibility support. For instance, while Webex has known accessibility flaws, Zoom is broadly popular among the disabled community, and Google Meet includes options for closed captioning of meetings.

When you evaluate a new tool for accessibility:

  • Test it yourself to see the UI is friendly to a broad user base.
  • Look for documentation that states what assistive technology it is compatible with.
  • Check for an accessibility page to see if the company has any specific policies in place (or if they are aware of accessibility as an issue at all).
  • Consult with disability testers who can review the software for you, or find reviews online of the software from disabled users.

3. Pay attention to how novel design ideas may create novel accessibility traps.

Sometimes, when a company says “we want to provide a high-end user experience,” what they mean is “we want something no one’s done before.” In other words, they want the experience to trump the user. The result, predictably, is a usability nightmare.

We’re all about creating beautiful designs, but we make no secret of prioritizing function. It’s what our slogan, “design with purpose,” is all about.

Read More: Architecture, Accessibility, and Function-First Web Design

If anything has changed on the state of website accessibility since Covid-19, it’s that many companies are suddenly recognizing the importance of their website for customer relations and are ready to invest in a new design, but are about to do so without educating themselves on accessibility first.

This has the potential to create problems for disabled users, and for the businesses who are about to burn their budget on a flashy design that some portion of their visitors can’t use. In particular, dynamic elements that shift or move unexpectedly are a usability trap for users with poor motor control, and can cause issues for assistive technology as well.

We even wrote recently about how Google’s new ranking factors prioritize visual stability in UX. In other words, sites with an unstable user interface may see their rankings suffer. Businesses considering a redesign should take heed: never sacrifice user experience for an experimental design.

Good accessibility is good UX.

When most people talk about user experience, they mainly focus on abled users. But it makes no sense not to include users with accessibility issues as part of a comprehensive UX plan. They are also users, and their experience matters.

As a business, you owe it to yourself, your employees, and anyone visiting your site to have an accessible design. When visitors are turned away because of accessibility traps, poor design, or confusing layouts, it damages trust in your company. If your employees can’t use your site, they can’t do their jobs well. Ultimately, bad UX reflects poorly on your business, and damages your reputation.

If you’re committed to improving the accessibility of your website but need someone to help you with the redesign, contact us. We’re ready to work with you to create a site that all your visitors can access, and that you can be proud of.

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