Stop alienating your website visitors by overlooking web accessibility

How easy is it to navigate your website? Does the experience differ if the site visitor has low levels of literacy or visibility?

How easy is it to navigate your website? Does the experience differ if the site visitor has low levels of literacy or suffers from visual impairment?

If you’re not delivering an inclusive, user-friendly online experience, you might already be alienating millions of users who suffer from a disability.

In 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium developed a series of standards – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 – that aim to ensure all websites are accessible to people with disabilities, including those with hearing impairments, blindness, and learning disorders.

Although governments around the world are putting measures in place to enforce these and other similar guidelines, many businesses still lack awareness of basic accessibility issues.

Why accessibility matters

When creating online experiences, businesses need to keep everyone in mind in terms of availability and accessibility.

Research shows that one in five Australians suffer from a disability, due to age, physical impairments, motor skills or even socio-economic issues. As the technology being used and developed continues to evolve at a rapid pace, businesses that fail to include people with disabilities will be excluding a significant portion of their potential audience.

An accessible website, one that is user-friendly and intuitive for all online visitors, is a great way to ensure an inclusive communications strategy. However, designing an accessible website involves much more than just creating an uncluttered interface and ensuring it can be used by a customer with a smartphone.

Approaching accessibility from ground zero

There’s no shortcut to being accessible.

Getting the basics right is integral to success. While image descriptions and simple layouts with clear language go a long way, it’s essential to pay attention to the context of the content.

Take hyperlinks as an example: those who use screen readers will navigate completely through hyperlinked text hearing and will hear only the words that have been associated with those links. Repeatedly listening to ‘click here’ won’t make any sense to a blind website user.

Here’s an initial checklist for website accessibility:

  • Prioritise intuitiveness by providing easy navigation with associated text for images and hyperlinks.
  • Design for readability and different literacy levels.
  • Don’t speak down to the audience or over-complicate the message.
  • Consider those for whom English is a second language

Web accessibility is an on-going commitment

Ultimately, designing an accessible website means spending time on continuous up-skilling, investing in new resources, and knowing where to improve. As new technologies continue to emerge and evolve, as will the needs of online users, particularly those with disabilities. Staying ahead of these changes and regularly updating web accessibility tactics will ensure a truly inclusive communications approach.

Although web accessibility aims to improve the user experience for impaired users, it has far-reaching effects on the entire website. The benefit of complying with accessibility standards is that all people who visit the site will enjoy a more user-friendly, and therefore engaging, experience.

Aaron Cluka is training manager at Squiz

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