Advice from the Pros: Designing for Web Accessibility
By Amberly Dressler, Managing Editor
More people are accessing the Web than ever before and with the influx of new Internet users comes a greater demand to make it usable for everyone regardless of abilities.
While regulation is not uniform across industries (read, "Web Accessibility Rules for 2015" at wsm.co/warules15) experts like Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet, notes an increase of cases where online businesses are sued on the grounds of discrimination. While some corporations are mandated by the federal government or other agencies to make their website accessible, others, notes van Vuuren, want to be good corporate citizens and support all their customers. There are, of course, revenue implications as well.
"Being unable to navigate non-descriptive links such as 'click here' or 'more info' greatly impacts the experience for the user living with disability, and is likely to end in abandonment in the journey," said van Vuuren. "For those users who have low vision or are blind, ordering products online or even booking a holiday using a device can become impossible if the business in question hasn't considered their needs when designing the experience. An assistive site that offers a good user experience for users will not just increase loyalty and trust for the business, but will impact the bottom line positively as well."
With 15 percent of the world's population living with some form of disability (according to 2014 data from the World Health Organization), brands may not only feel compelled to improve their online experience, but also soon be required to. When it comes to implementing accessibility, however, many designers have to rely on their peers to set an effective plan in motion, as their resources may be limited.
Website Magazine enlisted the help of accessibility experts to provide advice on meeting or maintaining standards (for more tips go to wsm.co/webaccess15). After all, while there are many considerations to be made when designing a website for accessibility, there are plenty of reasons for brands to make the effort - loyalty, compliancy, conversions and decency to name just a few.
Real World: Coding for Accessibility
When I was in university for computer science I met someone who was blind and surfing the Internet using a text-to-voice accessibility application. It was fascinating to watch: He'd rapidly switch from element to element on the screen and determine what the content was about. The dictation app would just pronounce the first few syllables of the content and he'd know what the content was about. Images and links were the toughest. People spam these elements with keywords rendering the "alternate text" attribute useless to its original purpose. Ever since then, when I code, I make sure all my alt text is descriptive and succinct by imagining it from the perspective of someone who's visually impaired."
~Orun Bhuiyan, Marketing Technologist, Senior Developer at SEOcial
Adopt an Accessibility-First Approach
"You've heard of mobile-first, which is a useful approach for getting designers and developers to think about the context of use and break-points in the mobile form factors, but "accessibility-first" endeavors to make Web accessibility standards compliance, as well as empathy, foundational to any website or application project."
~Thelton McMillian, Founder, President and CEO of Comrade
Use New Web Design Standards
"Website accessibility has gotten trickier over the last few years. Websites have been (and still are) going through an awkward growth spurt; they're becoming less like mildly interactive brochures and more like highly interactive app-like experiences. And as websites have become more complex, the bare minimum for accessibility standards has also grown more complex. We're hopeful that accessibility implementation will catch up to design and functionality trends. The recently debuted U.S. Web Design Standards (access at wsm.co/wdstandards) is a great example of making implementation easier - it provides easy-to-implement solutions for government websites and indirectly helps raise the bar for all websites. If Google begins to emphasize the importance of accessibility more than they already have, we'll really start to see standards pickup."
~ Justin Kalaskey, Lead Designer at WebMechanix
The recent trend for flat design and a simpler look and feel to sites has been very beneficial to accessibility. The more straightforward a website is, the easier it is for screen readers to present the content. With small wearables like watches, designers have to present only the core functions of their applications with a very basic interface, and this is a good mindset to have when designing for accessibility too."
~ Fiona Taylor-Gorringe, Developer and Blogger for MyAccessible.website
Check for Color Contrast
"People with a variety of vision issues (color blindness, low vision, cataracts, etc.) find it difficult to read without sufficient contrast between the foreground text and background color. Because of this, check your pages with a color contrast checker and never rely on color alone to relay important information. Testing for WCAG's recommended 4.5:1 color contrast ratio is a good start. This can easily be done with Webaim's color contrast checker or Web Accessibility Evaluation (WAVE) tool. In addition, a great tool that allows you to simulate how your site might look with a number of different vision deficiencies is the Chrome plugin, SEE."
~Michelle Williamson, Accessibility Lead for Mediacurrent
Tools for Designing for Web Accessibility
Check out what resources your fellow designers and developers are using to ensure their websites are accessible by all users at wsm.co/watools15.
Take a Human Approach
"Consider input from people with disabilities. Assume that someone can't fully interact with one part of your site, whether visually, with hearing or physically. It's a very human approach, and one that can benefit the population of people of all abilities."
~Sharon Rosenblatt, Web Accessibility Specialist at Accessibility Partners, LLC
Avoid "Future Proofing"
"Meeting and maintaining accessibility standards needs constant attention and a defined process. Designers/developers should have a strategy for this, make sure they have support from accessibility experts, and consider tools/solutions (such as Usablenet Assistive) that can help provide a blanket of accessibility across a website as it changes. When advising our clients on improving upon the user experience (UX) of their site or app, we explain that a small investment into user-centered research or insight will help to inform accessibility, which in turn is likely to offer a return on investment. We are also able to conduct an audit of the accessibility and compliance requirements of any website, to assist companies with developing a fully accessible website."
~ Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet