The Basics of Website Accessibility
“Accessibility” brings to mind a very narrow idea of usability tools for the Internet, usually those that help Internet users with sensory disabilities. However, designing websites with accessibility in mind covers a wider range of computer users than one might think. Complicated or poorly designed websites make using the Internet difficult for users with physical and cognitive disabilities as well.
Creating a website that is designed to be accessible for a wide range of users benefits all users. A well-designed website should consider not just the aesthetics and the cleanliness of code, but also how an accessibility tool will interact with the semantic elements of the website. While every website cannot be perfect for every user, consider who your users are and who they might be.
According to the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), the range of disabilities one should consider when designing a website:
- Health conditions that impact a user’s energy and physical abilities when using a computer
- Situational or environmental limitations to computer use
- Age-related impairments
- Cognitive disabilities
It’s also important to keep in mind that any user may have a combination of disabilities, such as partial blindness and an inability to use a mouse. For this user, if your media controls are too small to easily click or see, any video playing on your website may cause difficulty. You should consider not just how to best design your website with accessibility in mind, but also consider how those solutions will interact with each other in the real world.
While the scope of all accessibility tools is well beyond the scope of this site, some basics to keep in mind when designing your website include:
- Can the user control your website with their keyboard?
- Does audio content offer captions? Can the user modify the size and speed of the captions?
- Is your text presented in easily digestible chunks? Have you considered how users with cognitive disabilities will be able to process your information?
- Is your page navigation consistent and easy to follow?
- Do your images offer alternative text for screen readers?
- Have you considered color-blind users when making your design choices?
For a much deeper look at usability and acessibility, consider downloading and reading the 156 page report by the Nielsen Norman Group: Usability Guidelines for Accessible Web Design. While order, the report still offers a lot of useful ideas to consider.