How to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said that it was an essential aspect of the web that it must be accessible to 'everyone regardless of disability.'
It is therefore important that developers and organisations consider accessibility when creating a new website. Failure to do so may exclude some people from using their products and services, and they could be sued under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act compels web developers to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure that people with disabilities can access their website and take full advantage of the available services.
Web developers should refer to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for advice on how to make their websites accessible.
According to WCAG 2.0, a website should fulfil twelve guidelines organised under four principles, ensuring that the content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.
These guidelines include:
- Provide text to accompany non-text elements.
- Ensure all information is conveyed without relying on colour.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Create content which can be presented in other ways (e.g. a simpler layout) without compromising information or structure.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content, including separating foreground from background.
WCAG 2.0 uses three levels of conformance (A, AA, AAA), and the WCAG working group keeps an extensive list of web accessibility techniques and common failure cases for WCAG 2.0.
Websites must satisfy this requirements to at least an A level of conformance and should reach an AA level of conformance (they could still be sued if they fail to do so). The most accessible websites may reach an AAA level of conformance, but this is optional.
How the YorLinc website provides accessibility
The YorLinc website has been designed with accessibility as a top priority. The appearance can be changed to cater for the visually impaired, with three alternative colour schemes available at the bottom of the page:
- High contrast: Uses bright colours against a black background. Can help users with reduced vision or monochromacy (a rare form of colour blindness).
- Yellow/blue: Blue-yellow colour blindness is extremely rare, so these two colours are usually distinguished easily.
- Beige/cyan: Similar to High contrast, black text against a beige background provides a contrast which helps users with reduced vision.
It is recommended that websites provide at least one high contrast alternative colour scheme to improve accessibility for those with visual impairments.
The YorLinc website also provides options to increase the size of the text to help those with visual impairments who cannot read certain font sizes. Many computers and tablets have magnifying capabilities built-in, but websites should offer these services as well.
All images on the YorLinc website are supported by alt text providing a detailed description of what is depicted in the image. Alt text can be read aloud by screen readers so images can be described for those who are blind or otherwise visually impaired.
The YorLinc website can be accessed in its entirety using only the keyboard. People with limited motor control may be unable to use the mouse, but keyboard inputs can be mimicked using voice control. All websites should offer the same capability.
It is not only for the benefit of people with disabilities that websites should be made accessible. Accessibility also supports social inclusion for other groups, including older people, people in rural areas, and people in developing countries.
Accessibility overlaps with other positive online practices such as mobile web design and search engine optimisation (SEO), so improving a website’s accessibility can also be beneficial to its overall success.
Case studies have shown that accessible websites have better search results, lower maintenance costs, and increased audience reach. Making a website accessible is a simple but crucial process to which all web developers should aspire.
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