But whilst a heavy focus on user experience is essential to a successful website, there are still some web users with needs that are being ignored.
Although websites cater for specific target audiences, they also need to remember to cater for users of varying abilities and impairments.
Whilst you may think you’ve made something as simple as a link stand out; you may have actually disregarded the requirements of a less-abled user, and excluded them from being able to use your site. The content of your site may only appeal to a certain user group, but you should make sure that your site is accessible for everyone.
What is web accessibility?
Ensuring that your site can be used by everyone, regardless of any disability, is what’s called making your website accessible.
Because the web is such a vital source of knowledge, commerce, and interaction for today’s world; it’s essential to make sure that everyone can use it, and that all users can have the same level of accessibility.
With so much consideration given for disabled people in the outside world, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) wanted to transfer this equality to the online world. They created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in 1999, which set out three levels to which a website should conform.
These guidelines sought to remove the stumbling blocks that the less-abled users would be faced with when using the web, and provide advice on how your site can accommodate anyone with visual, mobility, auditory, or cognitive impairments.
So, for example, a user with a form of colour-blindness might not be able to differentiate between black text, and a green link. This user’s experience would be greatly affected, and as well as hindering their understanding of that page and its content; they would probably leave and not come back.
To overcome this particular issue, the website’s developer should have chosen different colours for the link text, or underlined it, making it clear where the links on that page are.
Why is web accessibility so important?
Everything on your website should be geared towards enhancing the users’ experience, and ensuring they leave your site happy and satisfied, with a view to return. You should be trying to appeal to the biggest audience possible, not excluding anyone.
With this in mind, making your website accessible for users of all abilities ensures the chance of your site being visited is bigger than ever, and the chance of increasing conversion and return custom is much more likely.
Above all, making your website accessible is just good ethics. It would be wrong to deny someone the use of your website just because you’ve decided to cater for the majority.
How can you make your website more accessible?
Making your website more accessible doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds, and you don’t have to compromise design either.
Simple things to implement are including photo captions, or adding ‘alt’ tags and title tags to all images and videos. You should also ensure that your site can run across all browsers, and doesn’t rely on one type of hardware.
For blind or deaf users, audio and video files should be duplicated on accessible sites with a full text transcription. Most blind users use software called ‘screen-readers’, which read the web content aloud or send it to a Braille reader, so your content should always be clear and simple.
One of the most important aspects to consider is how you differentiate your link from the text. Whilst it might seem pretty obvious to you that the link needs to be a different colour to stand out; you have to consider the colour you use, and what implications this could have on users with a vision impairment.
Leading web usability consultant, Jakob Nielsen, compiled a list of guidelines for including links in your web pages. Following these guidelines is a step towards making your site accessible, and whilst some may seem obvious – common knowledge even – ignoring them could destroy the fundamental usability of your website.
Here’s a few of Nielsen’s most important rules, which have become the universal guidelines for web designers across the world:
- Link text should be coloured or underlined
- If the link colours are red or green, then the link text should be underlined to ensure colour-blind users can recognise the links
- Don’t underline any text which isn’t a link
- Use different colours for visited and unvisited links, the colour for the unvisited links should be more vivid and bright than the colour for visited links
- These colours should be variants or shades of the same colour
- Shades of blue provide the strongest signal for links
- Don’t place links so close together so that users with reduced motor skills will have difficulty selecting the right one
Most of us take for granted how easy it is to use the web, considering it an extension of our communication skills, education system, and work productivity. But for some, the opportunities offered on the web aren’t in reach, and as such they lose out on an integral part of most people’s lives.
Something as simple as making your link text blue could open up countless opportunities for an impaired user, and allow them to use your site the way it was intended to be used.
As well as increasing your audience and potential custom, considering and improving the accessibility of your site means you’re contributing to making the web an equal environment, and allowing everyone to take full advantage of this global platform which has become custom for so many.
Picture credit: itjil