There is a vast amount of information and advice available about web accessibility, and it can be overwhelming so this is my take on the essentials that you need to know. This is only an introduction and not meant to be comprehensive.
What is Web Accessibility
In a nutshell it is a means of making websites available and usable by people across a range of disabilities including:
- Visual impairment and blindness
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Learning difficulties
- Cognitive difficulties
- Physical difficulties e.g. inability to use a mouse
- Photosensitive epilepsy
At first sight some of these may appear insurmountable e.g. how does a blind person read a website? Some of them do conflict, for example the right colour combinations for someone with a form of colour blindness could make a website inaccessible to someone with a form of dyslexia. There are no perfect answers but the fact is that the web as a whole is woefully inaccessible and with not too much work could be vastly improved.
How Can a Website be Made Accessible
The first thing I would say is that as with most things in life, the earlier accessibility is considered in the design of a website, the easier it is to include. Accessibility can be successfully bolted on afterwards but this usually involves more work (and thus cost) and doesn’t necessarily lead to an ongoing culture of accessibility (e.g. for content managed sites, much of the accessibility is down to how individual authors and editors use the content management system).
The simplest and most effective things you can do to ensure that a website is as accessible as possible are:
- Ensure that anything which isn’t text has a text equivalent (e.g. an image of a Company brochure page should be accompanied by text reflecting the contents of that image).
- Any video or audio needs to have alternatives e.g. transcriptions, captions
- Anything that you can do on the site with a mouse should also be achievable just using a keyboard
- Don’t use small text or badly contrasting text/background combinations
- Avoid anything that blinks or flashes rapidly
- Keep the number of links on a page to a sensible amount (including navigation links)
- Structure pages properly with headings, lists etc. (this also helps with Search Engine Optimisation)
As mentioned in the introduction there is a great deal of information available. I would recommend the official Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) as a good starting point.
Please add your comments to this post, tell me things I have missed, ask me for more detail, give me your views.