Designing and building a website is hard. We know that – and it’s why we recommend most businesses hire professionals to do it for them. There are a lot of variables to consider when embarking on a web development project, and it’s all too easy for an amateur to let one or two slide.
Crucially, very often the first thing to go in non-professional websites is accessibility. This is a bad thing for a range of reasons: ethically, it excludes people from enjoying your site; commercially, it limits your audience. These are both bad things, and it’s critical that developers consider accessibility – and incorporate it into all of their builds.
But what is accessibility? At its most basic level, web accessibility is about taking into consideration the differing needs of users. This shouldn’t be optional – indeed, in the public sector it isn’t, and websites designed for those organisations must tick a series of accessibility boxes to comply with the regulation.
Private firms, too, should take note. For example, incorporating ALT tags on every image – essentially, a short description embedded in the image tag so that browsers with vision impairment can have their browser read out the imagery as well as the text of a site – will improve a site’s rating with Google, which also rewards accessibility features.
The good news is that tools exist to check a site has made the necessary provisions. WAVE, for example, helps businesses and developers alike to evaluate their sites against all the relevant accessibility criteria. There are Chrome and Firefox extensions for this available, and a variety of APIs for more advanced users. WAVE gathers data on a site and suggestions where improvements are possible, making achieving a truly accessible site a lot easier and much less of a guessing game.
Fundamentally, an accessible website will have clear typography that uses fonts carefully and consistently to structure a page. It will present that text readably and in a way that can be rearranged by the user (to make the type bigger, for instance). The contrast ratio between background and foreground will be about 7:1; alt-text labels on images will be present; images will never serve as text, the copy will be simple, and the user interfaces clear. The animation won’t be distracting, and interactions – whether by keyboard, mouse or gesture – are straightforward and consistent.
We know that’s a lot to think about. But all that should also emphasise how generally applicable questions of accessibility are. These things are not “nice to haves” – they are essentials. It’s worth making this sort of investment in accessibility because the tweaks to designs that are made to meet its requirements are valuable to everyone. We’ve all used a frustrating website that was difficult to navigate – and we’ve all left it pretty quickly. Accessibility is about reducing the obstacles to users that your site presents. It makes it easier to use, for everyone.
Not all bad UX is inaccessible; not all accessible ones are good. But all frustrating websites are failures, and this makes accessibility a key tool for all good developers. A great site is easy to look at and understand, intuitive to use and extremely stable across a range of platforms. Achieving this should be the aim of every development team – and every business.
Our designers and developers can help. We’ve got the experience of building accessible websites for various sectors and industries. Get in touch with our team to discuss your requirements for the project.
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