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Website Accessibility: What You Need To Know


Making your website accessible is a win-win.


In Australia alone, one in six people (18%) are known to have disabilities according to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare. That’s over 4.4 million potential users who need to be considered and may have additional requirements for your website. With more people and businesses online than ever before, website accessibility is becoming a must rather than a competitive advantage, and rightly so.


What is web accessibility?

Website accessibility is all about making your website usable for everyone. Whilst most people will use a website on a “standard” computer or phone, there are many ways to access content. An example of this is a screen reader which might be used by someone who is visually impaired, and which reads aloud what is on the page. Without making certain considerations on your website, the screen reader may be unable to decipher some or all of the page, and therefore that user would not be able to use it - bad for them, bad for you.


Why does making your website accessible matter?

There are three primary reasons why website accessibility matters.


1) Inclusivity


This needs little introduction; if you aren’t giving certain people the option to access your website or buy your products, they are (inadvertently) being excluded. For the individual, this is a negative experience, and it can also reflect poorly on your brand.


2) Restricting access to potential customers


If your content isn’t accessible, those users cannot interact with you or buy from you. In short, this makes your audience pool smaller and also impacts potential revenue streams. With a less transactional hat on, you’re also missing out on rich insights that could help to shape business decisions.


3) Regulations


Australia’s Discrimination Act of 1992 requires equal access for people with disabilities. While website accessibility regulations are less prescriptive and heavily enforced in Australia than say the USA, there are still things that you need to bear in mind. If you serve an overseas market, you need to be mindful of their laws too, and it can land you in a real pickle if you don’t.


Two notable examples of where the Act has been enforced are:


  • Coles being fined in 2014 for an update that meant that a visually impaired customer could no longer place an online order.

  • The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games lost a case that challenged them over details that were not accessible to the visually impaired.



How do I know if my website is accessible?


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, are international standards and are applicable to websites in Australia and can be found here. These do, however, make for very heavy reading and realistically most businesses will not have the capacity to go through these to ensure compliance.


The good news is that there are now a number of tools popping up across the market that can analyse and monitor your website for you. WCAG has a list of these tools on their website, many of which are free. To date, I have not found one tool that does everything I need so you’ll need to shop around depending on your requirements.


My final point in this section is that many of the guidelines are common sense. I’d highly recommend doing a manual review of your website first - you’ll be surprised how much you pick out once you start looking.


How is website accessibility enforced?

The answer to this is rather an unknown quantity. While in theory there is regular monitoring in place, to my knowledge, it’s few and far between. However, that does not mean you should be complacent. If a user reports your website, it will likely get looked at, and so it’s a high-risk strategy to ignore accessibility if you’re purely looking at it from a legal perspective.


How can I make my website accessible?

There’s no golden dart here, but good design and SEO should always consider accessibility. At every decision point, I’d recommend adding an extra question or tick box as a minimum- “does this negatively impact the accessibility of my website?”.


That said, there are some common mistakes that we see day-in-day-out which can have a sizeable impact on your site. I have included some common faults and interesting opportunities below to help get you started:


  • Not enough contrast between text and background colours. This is very basic but is so often missed, particularly when adding variations to colour palettes. I’d recommend using a Chrome add-on such as Colour Contrast Checker to spot-check at least the main elements on your website. If you have a light and dark mode, don’t forget to check both versions.


  • No/ poor alt text on images. Alt text or alternative text is a backup for when an image doesn’t load as it describes what the image is about. However, it is also used by certain adaptive technology to tell the user about what’s on the page. It’s therefore important for everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability. It’s also an opportunity to explain to Google what the image is about so from an SEO perspective it’s highly recommended too.


  • Not structuring pages properly. Page structure is an SEO fundamental. Every page should have one, unique <h1>. Beyond that, you can have multiple <h2> or <h3> headings, but it is critical that this structure is logical. Not only does this make it easier for search engines to read but it’s also the way that screen readers decipher your pages too. This handy diagram from SEM Rush shows you a good vs poor page in terms of structure.


  • Not accommodating keyboard-only navigation. This is primarily a desktop issue but does render a website entirely inaccessible to certain users if not resolved. The challenge here is for users that do not use a mouse (either due to accessibility or preference) as they will need to be able to navigate the website and complete actions solely on their keyboard. An important thing to remember when looking at the keyboard only is that certain keys should be used for certain actions. These are summarised nicely in this article from Novacare. 


  • Buttons too small or close together. This is something that you may see flagged as a mobile issue in Google Search Console, however, it becomes increasingly important when you look at it from an accessibility perspective. If you’re using the buttons to control a website, but you can’t select one button without hitting another part of the page, you’ll fall out of love with the site very quickly. When you’re designing your site, make sure you test the button spacing and sizing (on both mobile and desktop) as it’s easier to factor into the design before the site is built.


As Google is mobile-first, this issue will hurt you two-fold: in terms of user engagement and in terms of organic ranking.



  • Video transcripts. Video content is often very powerful, but it can be hard to access for lots of people. Traditional transcripts are valuable from an accessibility and SEO perspective, but if that video is within content, like a blog post, it’s quite often unappealing from a design perspective. Thankfully there’s a solution. Carousel transcripts such as this one from W3C are a great way to make content accessible without having a significant impact on layout.


  • Audio option. This is something I’m personally very excited about so, although it’s not yet common practice, I wanted to throw it in to demonstrate the progression in accessibility.


As Natural Language Processing (NLP) has improved, we’ve seen some incredible steps forward in text-to-speech technology. You can see an example here from 20minutes.fr  (Note: audio and article in french).


Summary

If you take one thing away from this article it should be that accessibility matters, and not just to those with a disability. Making your website accessible has positive impacts that reach far wider than simply expanding your customer base, and it goes hand-in-hand with SEO and user experience.


To chat with one of our team about making your website more accessible, please drop us a message. 


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