Web accessibility may not be something that the average web user is aware of, but for a large number of people it’s the difference between being able to get the information they need and not. Web Accessibility allows people with disabilities to use a website just like anyone else would and is one of the foundations of a free and open web.
Web accessibility is very important in web development not only from helping others get the information they may require but also from a legal standpoint. Although there is no official yes or no when it comes to whether a website is accessible, there are many ways in which you could avoid a legal challenge.
The first step in creating an accessible website is knowing the standards. One of the best resources for web accessibility is W3C and their guidelines WCAG 2.0. The guidelines come in three levels; A – the basic requirement, AA and AAA – the highest level.
Whenever we are asked to consider accessibility in a project, either a new build or updating an existing website, we always aim for AA standard as a minimum, as this guarantees we cater for the wider audience and offer support for assistive technologies.
A lot of developing for web accessibility is ensuring that we meet all the latest web standards and correctly using semantically meaningful HTML5 tags for example. This means telling browsers and assistive technologies where the header and footer of a page are and specifically where the title of the page is, amongst many other things.
Another important aspect is provide relevant meta information, which includes text descriptions of any content relevant images, and descriptions of where a link on a page will send a user. This is particularly important to blind and partially sighted users, who rely on screen readers to interact with individual web pages.
More extreme but ultimately more helpful measures include providing the ability for users to load in a high contrast style sheet, for example turning the backgorunds black and making text a neon green, which makes reading the page much easier for partially sighted users. In certain circumstances where a particularly media heavy page cannot be made accessible, it is possible to provide text only versions of a page, which removes all styling and layout, and provides all the content in a structure manner to users.
When developing for web accessibility, we regularly consult analysis tools to ensure that each page meets the required standards.
A great tool for checking the accessibility of a website is WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool), this tool checks through your website looking for any errors that may prohibit someone with a disability. Although it’s useful, it does not find every problem that someone with a disability may come across and therefore should not be relied upon as a genuine accessibility test. Other tools that are similar to WAVE include Tenon and HTML_CodeSniffer.
Other tools that can make a big difference include screen readers which aid blind and partially sighted people. If you are on an apple machine, Voiceover should be your screen reader of choice as it’s easy to use and comes pre-installed on most machines. If you are on a PC with windows 7 or above you may use Narrator although it is basic, other free screen readers such as NVDA may be a better alternative.
In addition to screen readers it’s generally a good idea to test websites being developed with screen magnifiers such as ZoomText or MAGic. Most modern browsers do contain settings that will increase text size for a user without the need of third party applications which generally is the favoured alternative.
If accessibility is highly important it’s best to get your website checked by professionals who can give you individual advice on your project. User testing is also a great opportunity to test a website’s accessibility, it’s also recommended if doing so to try and have one person with accessibility needs in each user group.
Providing an accessible website means ease of access to all users, regardless of ability, which is an important factor in a free and open internet. Meeting accessibility guidnelines shows you as a company or organisation care about your website visitors and their experience with your service.
If you are a government organisation, or an independent organisation or charity that receives direct support or funding from a government or local council agency, then you may be legally required to ensure your website conforms to accessibility guidelines (minimum AA standard).
We are able to include accessibilty development into any of our projects, and if you have an existing website, we’d be happy to give it a review and let you know if you currently meet expected guidelines.