A Complete Guide to Website Accessibility

We’re living in the future. Artificial intelligence is making waves. We can order groceries from our phones. The big wide world has never been more accessible. Right? Well, yes and no. Large sections of our communities still don’t have access to the same wealth of information as most of us do.

Website accessibility isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s about breaking down barriers so that everyone, including those with disabilities, gets a fair chance to explore, understand, and interact online. In the same way that a ramp can make a huge difference to someone in a wheelchair, making a website more accessible opens a digital door that would otherwise remain shut to someone with visual, auditory, or physical challenges.

This guide won’t be a list of do’s and don’ts. We’ll be giving you the how and the why behind making your website accessible to everyone. We’re covering the essentials, from picking colour contrasts that don’t leave anyone out to ensuring your site can be navigated with a keyboard. Our aim? To show you that making your site more accessible isn’t just about compliance; it’s about making the web a more welcoming space together.

website accessibility graphic, web design richmond

1. Understanding Website Accessibility

Website accessibility means carefully considering how you set up your online space so everyone can find what they’re looking for, regardless of their abilities. Whether it’s someone using a screen reader because they can’t see your photos or video captions for those who can’t hear, small changes can make a big difference.

The internet promised us a world of information at our fingertips, but not everyone got the invite. Making sites accessible is our chance to fix that. Beyond being the right thing to do, accessible sites are also smarter business—they’re easier to use, better for search engines, and open your doors to a wider audience.

Legal and Ethical Considerations in the UK

When it comes to making websites more user-friendly, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are pretty much the gold standard. These guidelines lay the foundation for ensuring that websites can be enjoyed by people with disabilities.

We also have the Equality Act 2010 and Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which specify that services provided through websites need to be accessible to all.

So, not only is an accessible website a welcoming one, but it’s also compliant with all relevant equality and accessibility regulations.

2. Incorporating Visual Accessibility into Design

When it comes to designing your website, there’s a sweet spot between making it look good and ensuring it’s accessible. Visual accessibility is about tweaking and choosing elements that make your site both a treat for the eyes but also easy for people with visual impairments to navigate. Here’s a few tips for executing that brief.

In a previous article we explored how to Create a Mood for your Website with Colour Psychology, helping you choose colours that create the right atmosphere. But colour choices go beyond just style. While some colours may look great together, they may be more difficult to read for someone with vision impairment or colour blindness. Aim to strike the right balance between text and background colours for optimal contrast, ensuring that your content pops even for those with less visibility.

Colour Usage

Thankfully, you don’t need to eyeball it. Handy tools like the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker help you test your colour choices against WCAG guidelines to ensure you’re on track.

For colour-blind users, think beyond just colour. Adding patterns or textures to critical elements like buttons or charts can make a world of difference. Testing your design with tools like Coblis or Color Oracle will provide insight into how your site looks to those with colour vision deficiencies.

Font Types and Sizes

When choosing fonts for your site, look for options that are widely recognised for their readability—think Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman—and steer clear of overly stylised fonts that might look pretty but can be difficult to read.

Size matters, too. Ensure your text is large enough to read comfortably, but also make sure your website allows users to adjust text sizes themselves. This flexibility is a game-changer for visitors with visual impairments, making your content accessible to a broader audience.

Images and Alt Text

Every image on your website tells a part of your story, but only if everyone can see it. Alt text comes into play here, providing a textual alternative to visual content, which is incredibly helpful to users who rely on screen readers. Alt text is essentially a caption explaining what the image conveys.

Writing effective alt text means being descriptive yet concise. Think about how you’d explain the image to someone over the phone. Describe what’s essential, including the mood or action, without stuffing it with keywords in a way that feels unnatural. This practice not only makes your site more accessible but also improves the user experience.

3. Improving Usability of Interactive Elements

Making your website usable for as many people as possible means thinking beyond the mouse and the touchscreen. In this part of our guide, we’re focusing on enhancing usability through interactive elements. 

From navigating menus to filling out forms, a few small tweaks to your design can make a world of difference in making your site more accessible and user-friendly.

Keyboard Navigation

Not everyone uses a mouse to browse the web. For some, keyboard navigation is the only option for scrolling. Making sure your website can be fully navigated using just a keyboard is a big step towards inclusivity. This means ensuring that all interactive elements are reachable and usable with keyboard commands.

By creating a seamless flow that lets users tab through menus, links, and forms effortlessly, you can prevent them getting stuck or lost. Testing your site’s keyboard friendliness is easy and goes a long way in opening up your digital space to more users.

Making your site navigable via keyboard starts by having a logical structure. Your web designer can use semantic HTML5 elements to ensure natural flow and should test your site using only the tab, enter, and arrow keys.

Form Accessibility

From signing up for newsletters to making purchases, forms play an important role in helping users interact with your site. You can optimise the accessibility of your forms by clearly labelling each field so users know exactly what information goes where and adding straightforward error identification

If a user misses a field or inputs something incorrectly, make sure the feedback is immediate and helpful. This not only aids those using assistive technologies but improves the overall user experience, making form completion a breeze rather than a barrier.

Clickable Targets

Ever tried pressing a button on a website only to find it frustratingly unresponsive or too small to hit accurately? That’s a hurdle you can eliminate by making sure buttons, links, and other clickable targets are adequately sized and spaced apart. Adequate size and spacing reduce the chance of errors, making your website more navigable and enjoyable to use, especially for those with motor difficulties or anyone using a device with a touch screen.

To make clickable elements more accessible, increase button and link sizes beyond the minimum standard, ensuring they’re easy to tap on touch screens. Use CSS to adjust padding and margins, providing ample space around clickable items. If you’re curious to learn more about web development, you can learn more here.

4. Multimedia and Dynamic Content

Multimedia and dynamic content, like videos and animations, make your website feel more modern and keep visitors engaged. But not everyone gets to experience these features in the same way.

Imagine trying to enjoy a video without being able to hear it or feeling dizzy from a moving image on your screen. That’s the reality for some people. So, how do we make sure everyone can join in on the fun?

Captions and Transcripts for Videos

Captions and transcripts are the all-access-pass to videos for those with hearing impairments. But adding them to content isn’t just slapping text on the screen. You’ve got to make sure the captions are in sync with your video and that both are easy to read. There are plenty of tools out there, like automatic captioning features, that can help you start, but you’ll want to double-check for accuracy. It’s a bit of effort, but it goes a long way toward making everyone feel included.

Animation and Motion

As web designers, we’ll be the first to say that animations are cool. But for some people, they can literally be a headache. While a nifty animation has its place (and can provide a great first impression on your website), if your site has too much movement, it might not sit well with everyone. The trick is to dial it back for folks who need it. You can use simple settings to let users control whether they see all that motion or opt for a more static experience.

When you do use motion, keep it gentle. Flashy isn’t always better. And if you can, let people pause or skip animations. Using CSS tricks like ‘prefers-reduced-motion’, you can automatically adjust your site for users who have set their preferences for less motion, making sure your site is a comfortable space for everyone to browse.

5. Testing and Maintaining Accessibility 

Ensuring your website remains a welcoming place for everyone is an ongoing journey, not just a one-off task. It’s all about regularly testing and tweaking to keep up with both the evolving web standards and your content updates. Here are a few tips based on our experience as professional web designers in Richmond.

Testing for Accessibility

First off, you’ve got a toolkit of resources to help check how accessible your site is. Automated tools like WAVE, Axe, or Google Lighthouse can scan your pages and flag up issues, from missing alt texts to poor colour contrasts. While these tools are great for catching a wide range of potential issues, they don’t catch everything. That’s where manual testing comes in. This can be as simple as navigating your site using only a keyboard or running it through a screen reader to see how it holds up.

Another powerful method is user testing with people who have disabilities. This gives you direct insight into the real-world challenges users might face on your site and offers invaluable feedback on how to improve accessibility.

Keeping Accessibility on Track

Maintaining an accessible website means integrating accessibility checks into your regular site maintenance routine. Every time you update your site or add new content, take a moment to run through accessibility checks. Make accessibility a key consideration in your content creation process, whether that’s ensuring all new images have alt text or that all video content includes captions

Also, web standards and accessibility guidelines evolve over time, so staying informed about the latest developments is important. Regular training for your team or periodic consultations with accessibility experts can help keep your site in line with best practices.

Accessibility graphic, web design kingston

6. Make Your Website More Accessible Today 

In our discussion on website accessibility, we’ve covered quite the ground, from the basics of visual design and interactive elements to the nuances of multimedia content and the importance of regular testing. Each step of the way, we’ve seen how small changes can make a big difference in making the web a more inclusive space.

Remember, accessibility is a moving target, but with the right tools and a commitment to regular check-ins, you can keep your site accessible to as many people as possible, making sure everyone can benefit from what you have to offer.

For those looking for help navigating the complexities of website accessibility, our team is here to help. We offer expertise in building accessible websites from the ground up, ensuring your site is fit for purpose while representing your business at its best. Get in touch today, and let’s work together to create a digital world that’s open to all.