Are you factoring accessibility into your website design?
Posted on: 13/11/2020 by Tina Meigh
While designing beautiful websites and online content is every designer’s dream, there are some factors that everyone should consider. Often overlooked as online content vies for audience attention, those with accessibility issues sometimes suffer and miss out on a great website experience.
Inclusivity in design
As the reach of the internet grows it’s more important than ever to factor accessibility into everything we put out there for public consumption. Websites, tools and technologies can and should be designed and constructed with accessibility in mind, and the end products should meet a full spectrum of additional needs.
So, what is accessibility? In this context, accessibility refers to how easy or difficult it is for a person to use, understand and interact with something online. If the product allows them to interact freely and easily with it, then it’s considered accessible as it’s inclusive of the needs of your users. Understanding how our needs differ is key to creating online experiences which are actively inclusive of variable needs.
At its heart, creating accessible websites means considering the diverse, unique needs of the users who will be interacting with what you produce.
As every person’s accessibility needs are different, it’s important to think about the main kinds of issues that can be present within the population. Generally, accessibility can be broken down into four main categories which affect people to varying degrees.
- Visual:Conditions that affect a person’s vision include complete or partial blindness, colour blindness, low vision and low contrast sensitivity.
- Cognitive: Every person’s cognitive function is unique to them and accessibility issues can arise for people with learning difficulties and conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD.
- Motor: Individuals with additional needs relating to their motor function may find they need support with things like using a mouse due to differences in fine motor skill function.
- Auditory: Hearing issues range from profound deafness to slight hearing loss and anything in between. It can also refer to chronic conditions like tinnitus which affect the hearing.
Accessibility issues can usually be accounted for and solved at the design stage of any new project so that everything you produce can be considered inclusive. It’s fairly common for people’s accessibility needs to change over time, but the tips below will help you to keep these factors in mind as you design and produce websites and online content.
- Make accessibility part of everything you do: You should always design for accessibility – it’ll ensure that your consumers will be much more engaged. Make sure everyone in your design team is aware of the various accessibility issues and make design decisions based on this knowledge at the start of any project.
- Colour contrast: often overlooked but around 1.3 billion people live with some form of visual impairment (source: World Health Organisation). Think about what colours you’re using – people with visual impairments often struggle to read text if there’s not a good level of contrast between the text and the background colour. Black text on white or yellow background is particularly effective – light grey on dark grey is not! And anyone with colour blindness (around 8% of men and 1 in 200 women worldwide) may completely miss a key message depending on how it’s displayed.
- Add clear instructions: Particularly if you have forms to fill in online, make sure you give clear instructions on what to do. People with learning disabilities or cognitive issues may struggle to understand what to do and this can be very off-putting. Use of labels for form fields is also handy for screen readers. But make sure you keep any instructions clear and simple to follow – and make sure they don’t disappear once you start to fill in the form!
- Don’t forget the alt text: People with visual impairments will most likely use a screen reader to help them hear online content rather than read it. You should always make sure that images have alt text so that they know what’s happening in any image. Just because they can’t see it, it doesn’t mean they should miss out on the full online experience.
- Break up text with headings/sub-headings: This will allow users to navigate through your online content. Make sure your page structure is clear and if you’re using columns, give users the option to change the display if they need to. And keep your writing style simple – the easier it is to understand, the more successful it’ll be.
- Test your content: If you’re able to, test your content. Put yourself in the position of someone with accessibility issues and simulate the online experience. There are various tools out there that will help you to do this.
If you do the work, your consumers won’t have to. Millions of people are affected by accessibility issues and by taking steps to improve your digital content, you’ll improve the experience of your consumers and boost your business.