If you have a business in the United States with a physical location open to the public, you are probably familiar with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.¹ This law and regulations based on it are designed to safeguard the rights of disabled people in the US, and businesses that serve as public accommodations have a legal responsibility to make sure that their facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities such as physical handicaps and visual or hearing impairments.
What many businesses forget is that accessibility doesn’t end at your physical location. It also matters for your website.
Websites are commonly designed with a specific kind of user in mind: an able-bodied person. That is, we generally think of our typical user as someone using a standard computer and browser, making use of their hands (or sometimes just fingers) to interact with the site, viewing it with eyes that are, at worst, in need of corrective lenses and ears that can hear with standard speakers. Of course, that isn’t the entirety of our Internet-using public — or our customer bases.
Sometimes this even matters to very simple things. Consider this very website, which to the average person might look like this (using Michel Fortin’s great Sim Daltonism app for Mac/iOS):
But people who are colorblind might see the site more like this:
In this case, users would be able to access the information — the text information in the logo — although their experience of the colors would be different. But what if the text had been red on green? A person with protan or deutan color blindness would have difficulty distinguishing between the two and the content would be inaccessible.
The best formal guidelines for accessibility on the Internet are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, currently in version 2.0. The guidelines are organized under four principles, which you can remember using the mnemonic POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. In other words, your content should be presented in formats that a wide range of users can perceive; your website should be usable through a variety of interfaces (e.g. keyboard only); it should be simple to understand and navigate; and it should be compatible with various assistive technologies like screen readers for the visually impaired.
A full, detailed list of design and development considerations is beyond the scope of this post (see here for some helpful checklists), but here are a few notable ones:
- Use “alt tags” when you have images containing text to make that text accessible for screen readers. (This is also good for SEO!)
- Make sure you have sufficient contrast between background and foreground (e.g. text color). Lea Verou has a great online tool for determining contrast ratio based on WCAG guidelines.
- If you use audio or video content, make sure you provide alternate options (transcripts for audio-only, audio tracks for video-only, captions or sign language for video with audio).
- Don’t include flashing content that could induce seizures.
- Use clear titles and headings.
Even beyond whatever legal obligations a business might have to make their website accessible, it just makes good sense to do so. The more users who can access your site, the more they will use it, which will drive organic traffic — and that’s good for your SEO ranking, so more potential customers will be able to find you.
And of course, it does you no good to alienate a segment of your potential customer base who may simply have some accessibility concerns.
Interested in turning your site into one that meets these standards? Contact us to schedule a consultation on a new, accessible website today!