This blog post has been updated. Original post published June 10, 2020.
What happens when someone with a disability tries to visit your business’s website? Can an individual with a visual impairment use a screen reader to hear what’s on your site? Can a hearing-impaired visitor turn on closed captions or find transcripts of your auditory content? Can users who only use a keyboard or who voice cues to navigate the internet find their way around your page?
People with disabilities represent the largest minority group that any of us could join at any time. Even beyond the possibility of a life-changing accident or medical event, aging makes it likely that all of us may someday be affected by the loss of our vision, hearing or mobility.
Unfortunately, the internet is still riddled with barriers that prevent people with disabilities from being able to fully use and appreciate its content.
First, it’s a numbers game: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four U.S. adults — or as many as 61 million Americans — have a disability that affects their engagement with major life activities. If your website is inaccessible, you might be unintentionally slamming the door on literally millions of valuable prospective customers. By contrast, when you make your website work for people with visual, auditory or other impairments, you improve your conversion rates by helping them engage with your site, contact you for more information or directly purchase your products and services.
Second, you might be legally required to make your website accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal agencies make their informational assets — including websites — accessible to those with disabilities. This extends to those who do business with federal agencies. And while Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t specifically mention the internet, it also doesn’t expressly limit itself to physical locations, so ADA compliance is a best practice.
Third, accessible features improve search engine optimization (SEO) rankings, increase website traffic and make websites more usable for everyone, not just those with disabilities.
Here are some general tips to follow; for more detailed guidance, check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Visual accessibility. What would your website look like if you couldn’t see it? Ensure that your site is compatible with screen readers, which convert text into speech so visually impaired users can hear what they cannot see. This is particularly important for website forms, which should be labeled as such so they are readily accessible to screen readers. Also, be sure you specify what language your site is written in within the header code so that text readers can work with the correct language. Add descriptive alt text to images and videos so that people who cannot see that content can hear a description of those objects.
Bear in mind that visual impairment extends well beyond total vision loss. Look at your website through the eyes of someone with age-related vision loss or difficulty reading small text. Use a large, easy-to-read font, allow zoom on mobile devices and make sure your text is scalable. Use a background color that contrasts with your text color to improve readability. To go a step further, be sensitive to color vision when choosing contrasting colors; colorblindness may not be a recognized disability, but it’s a common, often-overlooked visual difference.
Does your site include videos with narration or sound? What about podcasts or voiceover descriptions? Make sure this content is available to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing by providing closed captioning or text transcripts. And as you did for visually impaired visitors, use alt text for video and audio files so that hearing-impaired users can read a description of any content that they cannot hear.
To improve your overall SEO and site usability for visitors of all abilities, use meta tags to describe your page’s contents so that people who cannot (or don’t want to) quickly scan the page can see at a glance what it includes. Don’t have videos or audio files set to auto-play, as these can be disruptive and hard for users to turn off. Design your site with a clear, easy-to-understand layout to improve navigation, and consider how users who are limited to keyboard use or who use voice commands to navigate will find their way through your site.
Ready to learn more about improving your website’s accessibility so everyone who visits your site can understand what your business does? You can take advantage of free online courses from the World Wide Web Consortium, including their “Introduction to Web Accessibility” class. And should need any assistance with building your website, turn to the knowledgeable team at Web.com.