Web Accessibility Part 2: Opening Doors to All Users

Making the Web Accessible for All – Part 2: Common Barriers Faced by Users

The first article in this series focused on why you should consider accessibility a fundamental component of your next web project. Reasons for creating an accessible website can vary – you may want to avoid excluding one in five users, or you might have an aging target customer demographic, or you may have recently learned that your site must be accessible per ADA or Section 508 guidelines. Whatever your reasons for considering web accessibility, understand that it’s a critical part of providing each and every user of your site with a good experience.

Now that we’ve covered why your site should be accessible, let’s focus on how different types of disabilities can impact your customers’ ability to use your website, and what you can do to make it more accessible to everyone.

Different disabilities create unique challenges that make it harder for the user to navigate and interact with your website. We’ll provide an overview of three categories of disabilities—Vision, Hearing and Physical—and how each could impact disabled users on the web.

Your users may be affected by a wide range of visual impairments: complete blindness, the inability to focus, increased sensitivity, or even lack of contrast or glare. Approximately 8.1 million people in the U.S. reported having difficulty seeing in the 2010 U.S. Census, including 2 million who were blind or unable to see.

Users who are unable to see rely on screen readers to provide navigational cues, as well as text and image content. You should ensure the following features and functionality are present for blind users relying on a screen reader to use your site:

  • Page titles should be clearly written and convey the content on that page
  • Links and buttons should be properly marked up to ensure it’s clear that they are links
  • Images should have meaningful alt tags, and more complex images such as diagrams or infographics should also have their content provided as text elsewhere on the page
  • Form fields must be properly marked up and have clear, understandable labels

Try downloading a screen reader and using it as the sole means of navigating your site. Can you navigate to the pages you’d like to visit? Do you understand all the content, including the content provided by images? If not, you could be losing 20 percent of your customers to sites they can use more easily.

  • Other users might be able to use your site without a screen reader, but have other visual impairments, such as decreased sensitivity to contrast. These users will need:
  • The ability to control and increase the size of your website using a browser’s built-in zoom features
  • The ability to control and increase the text size of your website using browser preferences
  • Text with enough contrast from the background – for example, lighter gray text on a white background can be very challenging for some users to see

Hearing impairments affect 7.6 million people (2010 U.S. Census), and this impairment can be especially common in older users. Users with hearing impairments may be unable to discern voices from background noise, hear higher pitched sounds, or just be unable to hear your site’s video or audio files at all.

If your website relies on audio or video content to communicate with users, you should provide:

  • The option to turn on captions within video content
  • A text transcript of audio or video content
  • The ability to control video volume

Additionally, when creating audio or video content, make sure speech is slow and clear, and avoid recording in locations with a lot of background noise to help users discern speech more easily.

Some of your site’s users may have physical disabilities that reduce their fine-motor control and hand-eye coordination, or simply make controlling a mouse painful and difficult. They might have a hard time clicking on small areas, or difficulty with the coordinated gestures required by a touch interface, such as pinching or multi-finger dragging.

To help these users navigate your site, create:

  • Keyboard alternatives for all mouse actions
  • Larger click targets
  • Forms a user can tab through to complete
  • A site users can control using a voice browser

The good news is that your site may already be partially accessible. Clean, semantic HTML and web best practices such as creating meaningful title and alt tags can take you a long way down the path to a fully accessible website. After testing your site with a screen reader or using voice controls, you may find that you pass some accessibility compliance checks, but not others, and that’s a good first step.

In our final installment of this series, we’ll provide a checklist and tools you can use to ensure your site is truly accessible to all. Or, if you need help assessing, drop us a line!