In today’s digital-first times, your website is the shop front to your business, whether you operate exclusively online or have a brick and mortar store.

As a business owner, you will naturally want to make your site open and accessible to as many people as possible to help you find leads, boost brand awareness, and increase your website’s return on investment.

In the United Kingdom, one in five of us has a disability, whether that’s visual, hearing, motor or cognitive.

Because of this, it’s important to think about accessible web design and look to find ways to improve the accessibility of your site.

Businesses in the UK are legally required to meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and operate websites that work on assistive technology like screen magnifiers, screen readers, and recognition tools, but there is more you can do to go the extra mile and deliver a great user experience to everyone, regardless of their level of ability.

Last year, Apple was sued over claims its site was not accessible to visually impaired users in one of the first cases of its kind. As accessibility becomes more of a hot topic, it is critical that you test and implement features designed to accommodate those with additional needs.

Today, we take a closer look at website accessibility and share some techniques to improve your website’s user experience…


Keyboard Navigation

One of the simplest website accessibility features that you should implement is making your website keyboard friendly – in other words, your website should work without needing to use a mouse.

Many assistive technologies use keyboard navigation to get around the web, and so websites that can be properly accessed without a mouse will naturally be easier to use.

Visit your homepage and use the tab key to navigate around.

If your website was designed correctly, you should be able to ‘tab’ through the website to every link and button and press enter when you want to visit a new page. If you find some links, buttons or forms difficult to use or navigate to, then you should address these using CSS (more on the W3 website).


Image Alt Text

If you want to follow industry practices and increase your search engine optimisation, then you should add relevant alt text to your images, but so many websites do not in order to save time.

Adding image tags takes only a couple of seconds, and serves as a replacement if the image fails to load, and as a signal for screen readers to explain the context of an image.

Write image alternative tags that are descriptive and to the point – your logo, for example, should sport a tag such as ‘Business name logo’, whereas a team photo of the whole office should include ‘Company team photo from February 2019’.

Where possible, you can also include relevant keywords in your alt tags, but don’t make them spammy as their primary purpose is to describe an image and help with accessibility in the case of visual impairment.


Accessible Forms

Forms are one of the most commonly used features on any website, but if you don’t design yours with considerations for accessibility, then you could run into problems.

All of your form fields should include a clear label – Name, Address, Contact Email, and so on. Your labels should be correctly coded so that they correspond to the respective field – floating labels or labels inside fields can be overlooked or invisible on screen readers, so keep it traditional.

As well as thinking about labels and form fields, offer clear instructions on how to use your form. Some tools such as WP Accessibility offer accessible and customisable contact forms.


Turn Off Autoplay

As tempting as it may be to welcome guests to your site with an explainer video that plays automatically, this is bad accessibility practice.

Indeed, users accessing your website on a screen reader may struggle to see how to turn off auto-playing media, or they may even be frightened by unexplained noise and choose to leave your site before they view your content.

Image and content sliders should also be avoided, as they can be frustrating for those who need more time to read information. If you do use moving carousels or content sliders, then be mindful of accessibility and implement a way to pause or slow down moving elements.


Accessible Content

Once you’ve improved the accessibility of your website, you should think about the content on your pages and make sure that it’s as simple and as straightforward as possible.

Using emoji on your website, for example, may be good for personalising content and showing your audience that you’re fun and relaxed, but emoji are not read by screen readers.

When linking to other pages, be sure to include descriptive anchor texts, alternative text, and names to avoid confusion, and always write out acronyms so that your information is clear and easy to understand. Not everyone can copy and paste an unfamiliar term into Google.

When laying out pages and blog posts, avoid too many elements such as forms, lists, infographics and interactive content (or offer an alternative to interactive content, such as transcripts) and use W3C Standards to ensure content is read correctly.


Wrapping up

There’s no denying that making accessibility changes to site website can be time-consuming and challenging, but welcoming as many people to your website is good for business and there’s no excuse why your site should be difficult to use for a large proportion of our society.

Adopting best practices and being mindful of disabilities will allow you to create a website that’s easy to use, resulting in increased brand awareness and engagement. Good luck.

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