What good does it do to design and develop a visually stunning website that leaves your users wanting more if that website isn’t accessible to all of your audience? After all, according to the World Health Organization, 1 billion people around the world live with some form of disability or chronic illness, which means that your user base could be missing out on up to 1/7th of your market by making your website inaccessible to users with disabilities. Check out these five ways to make your website accessible to make sure you aren’t turning away customers who need you most.
1. Make it Easy for Your Visitors to Scroll
In addition to making sure everything loads fast, consider design elements that make it easy for visitors to scroll through content. Place primary information and key links at eye level so they don’t have to tilt their head or hold their hand over their mouse. And never hide information below a fold — put important information on top of your page where it can be seen immediately by scrolling down only a little bit. It’s recommended that you use accessibility overlays to allow users to scroll down on your pages automatically as more content is added. If you don’t know what’s an overlay and how it works, then think of it as a widget or plugin that will make your website more user-friendly for the disabled.
2. Accommodate Blind People
The visually impaired use screen readers and other assistive technology, including speech recognition software and refreshable Braille displays. To accommodate these users, include alt tags in images and make sure all text is readable, not just colored blocks of nonsense. It’s also a good idea to keep color schemes simple. A visually complex page is harder to navigate, even if it doesn’t include any images at all. Remember that people who are blind or visually impaired can generally use a wider range of devices than other disabled users—they might access your site on their smartphone or on something completely different than you think they should use. Be flexible and accommodating in your efforts; providing universally-accessible content is more important than trying to choose an optimal device platform.
3. Optimize Images
When you have images on your website, it’s important that they are accessible to people who are visually impaired. There are a number of ways you can do so. For example, while you can use alt tags when writing HTML code, keep in mind that not all search engines read them. Also, try including captions on your images if possible; these serve as descriptions of what is shown in an image. The more descriptive your alt tags and captions are, the better off users will be. Images also make up much of what goes viral online — whether it be an infograph or meme — and making them accessible helps spread your content far and wide!
4. Develop Legible Text
In addition to making sure your website is designed in a way that accommodates screen readers, make sure your website has clearly legible text. Using a dark background can obscure words, so if you’re using a darker color as a background or an accent color, make sure it’s still easy to read. You can also add drop shadows and gradients around elements on your website—just keep in mind that these might impact accessibility. By doing this, you are making your site more compliant with the Web Accessibility Guidelines.
5. Use a Clean, Consistent Layout
Coding and designing a website can be complicated, but using clean and consistent styling will make it easier on everyone. Avoid using tiny fonts and hiding your site’s search bar in an advanced options menu—these things can make it impossible for people who use screen readers to access your content. Not only does cluttering up your design prevent blind users from accessing key features of your site, but it can also frustrate sighted users. Consistency is king here; let go of little flourishes and designs that are cute or funny (or just plain hard to read) in favor of creating a simple, easy-to-navigate experience. Navigation should be clear from page to page so that visitors never get lost (or have their information blocked).