Most of us know about accessibility in some form. Buildings have automatic doors and elevators. Sidewalks have accessible ramps at the crosswalk. Public transportation, restrooms, parks and movie theaters have features that help individuals with various ability levels have a sense of dignity and be a part of society.
Applying these principles to the digital world can make the web more accessible, too.
What is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility means making the web available to as many people as possible. It includes all disabilities that affect access to the web, such as:
Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities. For example, people may be using a mobile phone, smartwatch or smart TV, and want all devices to be equally accessible. An individual could have a temporary disability, like a broken arm or lost glasses. Or maybe they are in a situation in which a noisy environment prevents them from hearing the audio from a video you've posted.
In a recent article, we discussed connectivity and what that means for rural America. Web accessibility can also help users with a slow internet connection—or limited or expensive bandwidth.
Recent news that the Supreme Court declined to review an appeal from Domino’s Pizza highlights the trend toward ensuring accessibility. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier in the year that a blind individual could sue the company after he was unable to use its website and mobile app with his screen-reading software.
The implications of this ruling are far-reaching. Just as businesses comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements to avoid lawsuits, their websites and other digital assets should also be accessible.
Of course, in addition to preventing legal problems, making the web accessible is the right thing to do.
At Paulsen, we are continuously improving accessibility for our site as well as our clients’ sites. It’s also worth noting that when we hand over a completed website to a client, compliance with accessibility practices becomes part of site administration.
Web accessibility can seem overwhelming and daunting. It is worth the extra time to ensure your site is accessible. There are a few ways to start putting the right foot forward.
Images, Video and Non-Text Elements
Image Alt Text
Adding alt text to images is an essential part of SEO for describing to search bots what the image is or what it points to if the image is a link.
Screen readers also read alt attributes. Be descriptive and concise, keeping image descriptions within 125 characters. Alt text is not meant for stuffing keywords, so it’s important to write naturally. If more copy is needed to describe an image, captions are a better option.
An element’s purpose is sometimes just for design or decoration. Leaving the alt text blank, but still including alt="" lets a screen reader know that it can ignore the image and jump to the next focusable element.
Avoid using text in images when you can. Search bots and screen readers can't read the text.
Video Transcriptions and Captions
Video transcription is the video in text form, provided along with the video. You can simply place the text on the same page as the video.
Captions and subtitles are time-synced text while the video plays. Subtitles are the dialogue, and captions also include descriptions such as music playing, sound effects and speaker identification.
Audio descriptions enable blind and visually impaired people to receive the same information provided in visual media. They give context to visual content that is significant and can't be understood from only the main soundtrack.
Here is an example of a video with little dialogue and lots of visual information. With your eyes closed, listen and imagine what is taking place.
Pretty difficult? Now play the same video with audio description. The difference is striking.
Now, think about the benefit that audio descriptions provide. They fill the gap by describing crucial sound elements, visual actions, scene changes and text on the screen.
Structure Your Content Correctly
Your page content must be appropriately structured by using headings carefully. This will make it much easier for screen readers to interpret your page.
There are six heading levels: H1 (Heading 1, which is the most prominent) through H6. Each page should have only one H1. You can follow with an H2 subheading which can have nested subheadings, such as H3, followed by H4 and so on. Headings should be in order, so avoid using an H4 immediately after an H2.
Use Descriptive Link Text
Context is king when it comes to navigating a site with a screen reader. Users can select links from a list and read the link text. If the copy is, "click here to learn about us, but the linked text was "click here", that wouldn't be very helpful. How would they know what click here meant? A more appropriate way to word it could be "To learn more, read about us." And link the words "about us."
In discussing accessibility online, the abbreviation #a11y is used often. The number 11 is the number of characters omitted from the word "accessibility." Searching with this hashtag can help you locate online updates on accessibility.
Making the web accessible will soon become as commonplace as providing parking spots for people with disabilities. If you need help reviewing and improve your website’s accessibility, Paulsen would be delighted to help—just email email@example.com.