What is website accessibility and how can you implement it on your site?
What did you give consideration to when you began to build the website for your brand?
Did you focus on the colour palette? Or what sort of imagery you’d use? Did you ponder whether you’d have one or two columns of text? Maybe you debated the style of your menu or the impact of your sales copy to benefit SEO for your ecommerce store?
You likely spent a lot of time thinking about the aesthetics of your site. Ensuring it was eye-catching and visually appealing.
It’s no surprise really, that’s what the majority of people would do.
Your website design is the public profile of your business. It’s where people will be directed when they search for your brand’s name. You want to ensure that this public-facing embodiment of your business represents the best of your brand values.
But, for approximately 20% of the population, all that time and effort spent on the look of your site is wasted. And the only value your brand is exhibiting is inaccessibility.
That’s because, for the disabled population with visual and motor impairments, using the internet is a very different experience.
Brands not giving due consideration to website accessibility means that for people with different needs, many websites are unusable.
With almost 20% of the population identifying as having some form of disability, creating a website integrated with accessible features shouldn’t be an afterthought or not thought of at all.
It’s easier than ever to make your website accessible to all users. And why wouldn’t you want to make sure that everyone has access to your site?
Read on to find out what makes a website accessible, why you should ensure your site is accessible to everyone and how you can achieve accessibility.
What is Website Accessibility?
At it’s most fundamental level, website accessibility is a set of guiding rules that, when implemented within a website, allow people with disabilities to access and navigate that website.
These rules can be implemented through a variety of methods including in the design of the site, embedded within the website’s coding and in the formatting of the text on a site.
20% of the global population has some form of disability which can mean that they use accessibility tools to access the internet.
To help achieve website accessibility for all users, including those with differing abilities, The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1).
This document from The World Wide Web Consortium provides an explanation and guide for developers on how to build and update websites to be accessible.
The WCAG focusses on three areas of accessibility for websites:
Blind people using screen readers
Screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA are used by people who are blind to read textual information through synthesized speech or braille.
People with motor impairments using a keyboard
People with certain physical disabilities may use an adapted or alternative system to simulate the keyboard. This includes alternate keyboards that use head pointers, single switches, sip/puff and other special input devices.
Various other visual impairments
People with colour blindness, epilepsy, and minor visual impairments may use screen magnifiers or other visual reading assistants. These are mainly focused on adapting the User Interface and design of the website including colour contrasts, animations and fonts.
These guidelines have become the industry standard of best practice across the world when building accessible websites. Many governments have enshrined these guidelines in legislation, making them a legal requirement.
However, in the UK, there is currently no legal requirement for websites to be built to be accessible.
Why does your site need accessibility features?
Any new building or development is required by law to meet certain accessibility criteria. And if these requirements are not met then there are frameworks and legal precedents that people can follow if they feel discriminated against.
From the width of doorways to the depth of stairs and the dimensions of bathrooms; there are legal protections in place to ensure that people with different capabilities can have equal access to buildings and public spaces.
But, protections like those don’t exist online.
In the UK there is no legal requirement for a website to be accessible to those using screen readers or other accessible methods.
Meaning that, for people with visual or motor impairments that use the internet differently to those without a form of disability, if a website isn’t accessibility enabled, it is unusable.
Including accessibility features in your site means that you’re providing a website that everyone can use, regardless of ability.
How does it work?
Integrating accessible practices into your website development has never been simpler, there are plenty of services available to help make your site more accessible.
Installing specific accessible software on your site means that all the hard work is done for you. Services such as AcccessiBe are installed via a single line of code embedded within your site.
These services allow the blind and people with motor disabilities to use accessible technologies, such as screen readers and adaptive keyboards, to view your website without issue.
Accessibility software analyses a website’s content using Artificial Intelligence to provide screen readers with meaningful data. This provides the readers with accurate information including things such as descriptions of social media, search and cart icons and descriptions of the roles of certain elements including buttons, menus and popups.
For keyboard optimisation, accessible software can adjust the HTML of a website and add code to make websites able to be navigated by a keyboard. This navigation would allow users to move through the website using only the ‘tab’ or ‘shift and tab’ keys, ‘arrow’ keys, ‘enter’ and ‘escape’.
As well as being accessible for use via adaptive technologies, an accessible website allows people with visual impairments or other needs to be able to customise the appearance of your website for their specific needs.
Adjusting the size of fonts, providing image descriptions and adjusting colours and displays can all make a website easier to navigate for people with visual and motor impairments.
Interfaces, such as those provided by services like AccessiBe, include customisable adjustments for different aspects of your website such as:
Users can increase and decrease font size, change its family (type), adjust the spacing, alignment, line height, and more.
Users can select various colour contrast profiles such as light, dark, inverted, and monochrome.
Users with epilepsy can stop all running animations at the click of a button. This includes videos, GIFs and CSS flashing transitions.
Users with hearing devices may experience headaches or other issues due to automatic audio playing. This option allows users to mute the entire website instantly.
SEO and accessibility
The exact details of how Google ranks websites are still a mystery but, every now and then, they give us some hints to help us guide our practices.
And one thing that Google has been very clear about is its focus on user experience (UX).
Websites that give visitors a better onsite experience will be rewarded by Google with better visibility on the search engine results page.
Key areas that Google look at when analysing user experience are site load time, mobile compatibility, quality of content and internal linking.
Of course, user experience isn’t the only factor Google considers when determining site visibility but it’s definitely a good place to start. And really, who would want their users to have a bad experience?
What’s great is that the adjustments you make to create a more accessibility friendly website will also make your site more SEO friendly.
They go hand in hand because both screen readers and Google use artificial intelligence to scan your website’s content.
When you optimise for screen readers and adaptive technologies, you also benefit from optimising for SEO and vice versa. Win-win, right?
Our SEO Bedford experts can help get your site optimised for accessibility.
Changes you can implement to make your website accessibility and SEO friendly
While specifically crafted website accessibility software takes care of the heavy lifting in making your digital platform accessible to people using assistive technologies, there are some things you can do to help too.
Simple techniques in your content production and uploading can help screenreaders and adjusted keyboards to navigate your site.
And, these techniques will also make your site easier to navigate for the AI that Google uses to crawl sites when determining visibility rankings; making your site more appealing to Google.
When you upload content to your site, using headings in the correct order helps AI technologies to scan through the page and understand the flow of content.
Following the numerical order of headings is essential to allow AI to scan your content. Starting with H1 and working down from H2 to H3 and so on means that screen readers and AI can understand the order that your content should appear in.
Using headings in numerical order makes your website more crawlable for AI. It’s is the same approach that Google uses to analyse your content and so should always be a staple of your content uploading practices.
Skipping past a heading setting, i.e. jumping from H2 to H4 can confuse the readers and AI, making them think that content is missing. Avoiding this with correctly ordered headings is a simple way to make your content more accessible and SEO friendly.
Another easy way to make your content more accessibility friendly is to provide alt-text descriptions for your images.
These are short written descriptions of the content of an image that can be read by accessibility software and either translated into braille or audio descriptions for people with visual impairments.
Again, this is one of the things that Google looks for when scanning your site and something that helps with SEO and rankings. They improve the user experience by offering additional information, so Google looks out these alt-text descriptions when crawling a site.
Headings help Google’s AI and assistive screen readers to scan content once they’re on your website, but title tags are the first step in helping people find your site.
They don’t show up on your webpage but they are shown in the tab on the top of a web browser. And, more importantly, they’re what shows up on the search engine results page.
For people using screen readers, title tags help them to tell the difference between multiple pages. They’re usually what is read out first to a user and as such, they need to accurately describe what’s contained on the page so that they can know whether it’s the right page for them or not.
Similarly, Google uses title tags to align a page’s content with a user’s search intent making them essential for SEO. Making sure your title tags contain relevant keywords that are in keeping with the search intent of a user is essential.
If your website contains video or content, it can be beneficial to provide transcriptions of each video’s content, especially if the video is the primary content of that webpage.
Transcriptions can appear in a number of styles:
- Interviews and videos of people talking need transcriptions of what is said.
- Videos that describe a process will need a transcription of the process. This could be in the form of a how-to webpage or blog post.
- Videos that are more for aesthetic purposes and contain strong visuals need transcriptions which describe the visuals and what they are trying to convey.
In terms of accessibility, the benefit of video transcriptions is clear; people with visual impairments using screen readers will be able to have the video content described to them through words so that they can still consume that content.
For SEO the benefit is similar. While Google’s AI is incredibly advanced, it doesn’t listen to your videos or index what is said. So, providing transcriptions gives Google a ‘hard copy’ of your video’s content that they can scan and index, making your site more user-friendly.
Including a link to a map of your site, usually found in the footer section of a website, provides Google and screen readers with an outline of all the content on your site.
Site maps are simple structures that show the pages of your website in a list, providing a simple navigational tool with links to move through the site. Above, you can see the sitemap for the blog section of the Hedgehog site.
Screen readers use these site maps to move through a website, they give a ‘big picture’ overview of the entire site and makes it easier to find pages that might not be on the main menu.
For SEO a site map serves a similar purpose. Having this reference of all pages of a site makes it much easier for AI to crawl a site without missing any pages. Meaning there’s no chance pages of your website will be ignored by search engines.
Making simple accommodations like these in your content will help to make your site more accessible to people using adaptive technologies. And a big benefit of this is that you’ll also be ticking the boxes that Google look for when deciding webpage rankings.
The impact of accessibility adjustments on your website
The great thing about implementing accessible adjustments to your website is that for the majority of people there is no difference at all.
Your perfect design, the face of your business that you spent all that time and effort crafting, will remain unchanged for the majority of people.
The only thing that will change is that the 20% of the population with a disability will also be able to access your site. They might not access it in the way you’d initially anticipated, but they’ll be able to navigate your site and consume your content without issue.
And surely making your website accessible to everyone can only be a good thing?
Just as you’d expect a business’s physical location to be accessible, there’s now really no excuse for having an inaccessible digital presence.