Accessible Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide

If you want to create a website that people actually want to use, there are several things you must consider. Readability, speed, branding, aesthetics, and navigation are just a few examples of web design issues you must build into your website to allow a great user experience. While all of these elements are indeed crucial to web design, some require more attention than others. Security, for example, is an indispensable feature of every website, especially now that hackers are starting to double-down on their efforts. Among these aspects, one may argue that an accessible web design is one of the most underrated yet important considerations in web design.  

For differently-abled users, that means also creating an accessible website design that allows them to experience your content the way you intend. In some cases, such an accessible website design is required by law, in other cases, they’re necessary to reach 100% of your target market. In any situation, crafting an accessible website design shows your concern for your market and the values held by your firm, which increase brand image and sales.

accessible web design

What Is accessible web design? 

Pretty much everyone in the world uses the internet for things like shopping, connecting with friends, and research. This wide range of potential audiences includes the following users:

  • Senior citizens
  • Children
  • Veterans
  • People with disabilities
  • People in developing countries
  • People in low-income regions

Unfortunately, although these individuals may have access to the web, their limited capabilities can prevent them from fully utilizing the available features on a particular website. For example, you can usually read articles and watch videos on web pages without any problem, but that’s not something someone with visual impairment can do, much less enjoy.

Accessibility is essentially the element of web design that aims to improve the experience of these particular individuals. Going back to the previous example, if you want to improve accessibility, you can start by catering to visitors with visual impairments via immersive reading—a feature where one can listen to an audio file that goes over the contents of a particular document or webpage. While accessible web design makes things a bit harder for you and your web design team, web accessibility is required by law in many countries, as stated in their legislations and policies, and brings goodwill among users.

Standards and compliance for accessible web design 

If you look up web accessibility legislation on your search engine, you’ll find a handful of results. Among these types of legislation, these are the three most common standards:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 

The WCAG is a standard enforced by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that contains guidelines for web design for people with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards 

The ADA standards is a civil rights law prohibiting any form of discrimination against people with disabilities, meaning you must cater to the needs of differently-abled Americans whether you like it or not. ADA ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. This standard applies to government institutions, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

508 compliance 

The 508 Compliance is a federal law that requires federal departments and agencies to utilize electronics and information technologies that people with disabilities can access.

These three standards have the same goal: to improve the accessibility of websites for the sake of people with disabilities. However, they do have certain differences, as you can see above.  Naturally, you must comply with the standards enforced by the country where you serve customers and, since the internet is accessible in every country, that means you must comply with these regulations or face lawsuits.

Core benefits of an accessible web design 

Apart from avoiding any potential discrimination lawsuits from your visitors, improving the accessibility factor of your website brings a wealth of benefits to both you and your users.

The following are a few examples of these potential benefits:

  • It’s one way to improve search engine optimization. When improving web accessibility, you usually change or add several things to web pages. For example, you may add alt texts, closed captions, and transcripts for your videos. While adding these elements are mainly for the purpose of improving accessibility, it also drastically improves your website’s overall search engine optimization (SEO).
  • It allows you to establish a better reputation. According to a study by WebAIM, the vast majority of websites aren’t fully accessible. In fact, only 2% of websites accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. By doing what most websites don’t, you build a better reputation for your website, which can go a long way in attracting new visitors and retaining existing users.
  • You’re essentially adding to the number of potential visitors. Approximately 1 billion people around the world have a disability of some sort. That’s equivalent to 15% of the global population, which is no small number. If you want to maximize the number of users or visitors on your website, improving web accessibility is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to go about it.
  • It improves the experience of most users. Aside from its positive impact on people with disabilities, web accessibility can also improve other users’ experience, including those who are fully capable of reading or hearing.

By now, it’s obvious that accessible web design is far more valuable than you initially thought. But you must remember that managing web accessibility is by no means an easy task.

Four needs to address when developing an accessible website 

accessible web design

As you should already know, people have a wide range of disabilities. Some struggle with hearing, while others have no sense of sight. If you intend to create an accessible website, you should try to address the needs of each and every one of these individuals. On that note, here are the four needs that you must address to create an accessible website:

Mobility and motor needs 

This need arises when individuals suffer from temporary injuries or permanent disabilities that hinder their ability to properly use their limbs, particularly their arms and hands. For example, if a user fractured their arms, they may not be able to use their hands to type in what they want, which is where web accessibility comes in. When I recently had surgery for my rotator cuff, I wasn’t able to move my arm for 6 weeks and relied heavily on voice-activated accessibility features to do my job.

Auditory needs 

You must also cater to the auditory needs of individuals who have deafness and other hearing impairments, especially if your website contains many videos.

Visual needs 

Visual needs refer to the needs of individuals with visual impairments. Since web design mainly deals with graphics and visuals, it’s perhaps the most difficult to address among these needs, but it certainly is possible with the right strategy.

Intellectual and cognitive needs 

Certain individuals suffer from functional disorders that may prevent them from fully utilizing their cognitive abilities. These may include individuals suffering from loss of memory, attention deficit, or developmental issues. Perhaps the best way to approach this is by simplifying the web design, although it’s important not to do it excessively.

Web accessibility best practices 

Due to the intricacy of web accessibility, many web designers fail to create truly accessible web designs. If you’re struggling in that regard, the following tips should come in handy.

Add extra features and elements to your videos. If your website uses a lot of videos, you might want to consider adding extra elements to the multimedia. These may include captions, transcripts, subtitles, etc. By doing so, you can cater to individuals with little to no sense of hearing. It would also accommodate the needs of people without headphones or speakers who don’t want to disturb others.

Include alt texts on images. You may also want to include captions, also known as alt texts, on each image on your site.  With an alt text, blind individuals and those with low or blurry vision can figure out the contents of an image. It’s also excellent when combined with immersive reading. From an SEO perspective, web crawlers, who are also blind, use alt text to help classify your content.

Install immersive reading onto web pages. Immersive reading is a tool that consists of numerous features that aim to improve the reading and writing capabilities of an individual. One of the many features of immersive reading is reading text aloud, which is pretty handy for people struggling to read texts alone either due to vision or cognitive issues.

Refrain from using naked URLs. Tools like immersive reading also read out anchor texts aloud. For example, if you were to include the call to action, ‘Click here to find out more about the company,’ the tool would read it out for the user. As you may imagine, that gives people with disabilities an idea of what the link is about. However, that isn’t the case if you use naked URLs instead. When the immersive reading tool reads out naked URLs, it only confuses the listener.

Make sure the website is navigable with both a keyboard and mouse. When a person sustains an injury to their arm or hands, they most likely can’t use their keyboard or mouse at the same time. As such, make sure your website only requires one of the two modalities for navigation. For example, instead of only allowing the use of a mouse to scroll, you can enable arrow key inputs.

Pay attention to colors. Apart from individuals with visual impairments, you may also receive visitors who can’t see colors properly. For example, 8% of the population has a red-green color deficiency. Naturally, if you primarily use red and green on your website, these individuals have difficulty understanding your message. With that said, make sure you pay attention to the colors you use on your website. Utilize diverse shades to make sure the website caters to all groups of people.

Closing Thoughts 

Due to the fact that it’s required by law, web accessibility may come off as a nuisance to website owners. However, you can’t deny that you’re essentially expanding your reach by catering to people with disabilities. So, while it is challenging for the most part, with the right strategy, creating an accessible web design is certainly worth your efforts. In that regard, this beginner’s guide should come in quite handy.

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