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ARTICLE Business TipsDecember 28, 2015

How to make your website accessible to people with disabilities

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For the one in five Australians who have a disability, navigating and understanding web content can come with a few challenges. As a business, you need to make sure your website is accessible to everyone. Here are ten tips for improving web accessibility.

When you create a website for your business, you want people to be able to use it – that goes without saying. But it’s easy to forget that not everyone can access online content in the same way.

According to Vision Australia, there are over 350,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision. To make your website accessible to these users and other disability groups, there are a number of different elements of design, development and content management to consider.

“It’s important to address accessibility from the start, right from the design stage, through to the build of the website,” says Gerry Neustatl, Digital Accessibility Consultant for Vision Australia.

“But accessibility is not just the responsibility of the developer. Everyone who contributes to the site plays a part in making sure that the website and the content it holds are accessible.”

Understanding assistive software

The first thing to keep in mind is that some users may be accessing your website using assistive technologies, such as speech recognition software, screen magnifiers or screen readers. These devices provide alternative channels for interacting with a website, display an enlarged version of the page, or convert text into audio or Braille.

This means for your content to be accessible, you need to make it friendly for these devices or for anyone going through the page one word or image at a time.

“Basically, if something is communicated visually on the page, such as a heading, it’s really important to make sure it is communicated structurally as well,” Neustatl says.

10 ways to improve web accessibility

A web accessibility specialist can help make sure your site is built in line with best practices – and in compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Often, though, it’s small things that create barriers for people with disabilities or age related impairments.  That means it’s important for everyone who contributes content to the site to understand some of the basic principles of accessibility.

Here are 10 things that will help create a more accessible experience. 

1. Design for enlargement. People with low vision often enlarge page content. Make sure all content remains available, legible and functional when zoomed.

2. Think about colour contrast. Choose colours that will be clear for people with low vision and varying levels of colour blindness. There are online tools you can use to help assess colour contrast.

3. Organise content with heading tags. Mark up the structure of the page correctly with heading tags. This will make it easier for people to navigate your content, even if their device strips out your formatting. 

4. Give all your images descriptive alt text. Use alt tags to communicate the message of your images so they can be understood even when they can’t be seen or displayed. This is particularly important for infographics, charts, graphs or diagrams.

5. Build pages that can be accessed with a keyboard alone. Mouses and other pointing devices can be difficult for people with a mobility or vision impairment, so make sure your website is navigable using tabs, arrow keys, etc.

6. Include unique and descriptive page titles. Page titles are often the first piece of content read by people who are blind or have low vision. Briefly describe the unique purpose of the page to help readers decide whether it’s the right page for them. “Contact us – Vision Australia” clearly explains its unique purpose for all readers.

7. Make multimedia accessible. Include transcripts and captions for videos, animations and interactive elements to support people with hearing impairments.

8. Structure forms well. Mark up your forms correctly to make sure they can be easily used and understood. Help users complete the form with clear instruction, add help for submission errors, if required, and give every field a descriptive label. The user should be able to tab through the form to fill out all fields in order. “When the form has financial implications or legal commitments, it’s really important to make sure people can easily check it over before they submit it,” Neustatl says.

Keep in mind also that most CAPTCHA codes are inaccessible for many users. For CAPTCHA alternatives, try these suggestions.

9. Make your links descriptive. Vague link names like ‘click here’ can be confusing for people who are blind or have cognitive impairment.  Try something clearer like ‘read our FAQs’. 

10. Test with real end users. This is the best way to make sure your website is accessible. “It’s really important to test your website with end users to make sure people with different impairments can work with the content,” Neustatl says. “That’s the gold standard of accessibility – when you actually apply it in real terms, instead of just ticking items off a list of guidelines.”

For more guidance

Vision Australia provides a range of tools, guides and tips to help you make your website accessible. Find out more at visionaustralia.org

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