An accessible world is one where aspects of modern existence can be experienced and utilized by all. According to the World Health Organization, around 15 per cent of people live with a disability, with two to four per cent of those people reporting considerable difficulties in functioning.
Although much of the developed world is in the midst of creating an accessible physical environment, cultivating an equally accessible digital realm is critical. The introduction of assistive technology has helped students and professionals alike conquer online areas that once were inaccessible, such as assistive listening systems and text-to-speech (TTS) software.
However, creating accessible digital spaces is the responsibility of the digital professionals who create them. Whether you’re a graphic designer or web developer, it’s time to take a look at your portfolio and current projects to identify potential roadblocks to accessibility and how to overcome them.
What makes a website accessible?
Typically, using the web in a functional manner can be challenging even for those who utilize the service on a daily basis. In our modern world, most people rely heavily on access to the Internet for many daily activities — including education, employment and to access necessary information. Now, imagine trying to complete online banking or shopping as an individual with a disability that impacts your ability to view the text, watch a video or navigate a website.
To be accessible, ensure your website’s user interface can be used by everyone. Providing this equal access should be common practice for new website builds and website redesigns.
Creating accessible websites as a digital professional
As an initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) works to develop world-renowned guidelines for web accessibility standards. The WAI website is your best bet in finding comprehensive, up-to-date information on creating accessible websites.
The W3C WAI has compiled seven essential web development and interactions components which, when used in conjunction, create a website usability experience that is accessible to all. These components are:
- Content: Information on a webpage
- Web browsers and media players: Also known as “user agents”
- Developers: Site authors, coders and designers
- Authoring tools: The software used to create websites
- Evaluation tools: Tools and software that test website accessibility
- User knowledge and experience
- Assistive technology: Examples include screen readers, scanning software and alternative keyboards
Whether you’re a website developer, graphic designer or content writer, it’s vital that you consider accessibility in your development process. Following the overview of the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can help you understand the fundamentals of website accessibility in order to ensure your websites are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
These guidelines may seem daunting, but the quick reference page will help developers, designers and content creators navigate the guidelines and standards with ease.
Breaking down barriers with accessible web content
Leveraging information from the WCAG, web-based professionals can create accessible websites. However, it’s incredibly important that those who are outside of the disability community understand examples where being differently abled can impact having a full user experience of a website.
Media Genesis compiled a list of helpful tips recognizing various disabilities, how they can impact a person’s ability to view and use websites, and what designers, developers and content creators can do to maximize usability. Some examples are:
- Ensure all video or audio clips contain subtitles.
- Keep in-your-face or flashy photos, graphics and text to a minimum.
- Balance abundance of “loud” graphics on a webpage.
- Create an optional way for people to hide graphics.
- Make sure your web developer programs your site to be user-friendly for those navigating the site via keyboard.
- Implement informational access points in your search bar, primary navigation and footer.
- Insert alt-tags (also known as alternative attributes) to your site’s visuals and photos so that those using a screen reader can fully interact with your web page.
- Make sure all documents — whether they’re downloadables, infographics or charts — can be accessed by both PDF and text-based files.
- Use periods between abbreviations to make sure screen readers can accurately convey the information.
- Utilize colour contrast between your text and background to minimize eye strain.
By thinking critically about the user experience of all aspects of your website and implementing actionable changes, you can ensure that potential visitors have equitable access to the resources and information you’re supplying. Not only will this practice benefit your analytics, but you can rest assured that you’re taking part in creating a more accessible digital world.
If you’re interested in sparking the conversation on access to information within your workspace, Barrier Free Manitoba recently shared a paper from the Australian Network on Disability on their Twitter feed.