How To Make Your Website More Accessible. A Guide for Small Businesses

In 2020, the number of Internet users with disabilities in the UK reached 11 million – a figure that accounts for over 80% of disabled adults. Today, one in five adults in the country live with visual, hearing, motor, or cognitive disabilities – at the same time, business, retail, healthcare, educational, and governmental services are more and more Internet based.

Because of this, it has never been so important to review and update your small business’s site, making it accessible to everyone.

To standardise the measures that could effectively help people with disabilities, you could leverage the internationally-recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines to improve website accessibility are not only comprehensive, but also detailed, and tested.

Making your website accessible to every user is not only convenient to your business (accessibility and user experience are important search engine ranking factors) but also mandatory to be compliant with UK accessibility law. Here are some WBAG-based recommendations to make your website more accessible.

Create Alternatives To Make Content More Perceivable

The first principle explained in the WCAG document is “Perceivable”. Making your website more perceivable means that each user can recognise and interact with your services regardless of their disability.

Introducing this principle in your website means that you will take the following actions:

  • Text alternatives (text alt) for non-text content – providing alt text for images and videos means that a user can use an assistive device to receive a descriptive identification of the content.
  • Providing transcripts and captions for media – for users with hearing-impairment, transcriptions and captions is a way to experience the content and collect the necessary information.
  • Make your content easy to find and read – ensure that the content is logically structured, divided by subheadings, described in simple terms, and clearly marked out. While you should not use colour as the only way to highlight something, contrast between background and text can help make the content more perceivable. 
  • Add zoom features – ensure that text and content can be increased by 200% and it is equally easily readable and logically structured when enlarged.
  • Ensure the site is responsive and adaptive – your users might access your site from a variety of devices. Thus, your content needs to respond well to the kind of font and device they will be using. 

Ensure Your Content is Accessible and Operable

Recent studies have confirmed that the disability digital divide is substantial and worsened by the recent pandemic. Nonetheless, the obstacles people with disabilities face when accessing digital services vary depending on the specific disability.

The second principle of WCAG aims to make all digital services operable and accessible to everyone regardless of their disabilities.

Some actions you can take to make your website more easily operable include:

  • Carefully review your animations – moving content can represent a barrier for people with disabilities. Consider avoiding blinking or flashing media, allow for animation disabling, and ensure that the user can pause or stop moving content.
  • Make the content easier to access – include clear action buttons that allow users to skip to the main content, use descriptive titles, and ensure that the content on the page moves in a logical way. 
  • Think about device-related operability – Ensure all services can be accessed by keyboard-only users and that the content in focus by assistive technologies is easily identifiable. 

Control timings – with time-sensitive content, make sure you leave enough time before it changes into another piece of content. For example, a homepage slideshow should be slow enough for everyone to understand.

Create Easy-To-Understand Content

Content is key to allow users to understand what products and services your business is offering. Through content, you can also highlight your unique selling points and competitive advantage. So, it is crucial to find ways to describe your digital services in ways that are both appealing and accessible. The WCAG “Understandable” principle does just this – ensures that your content can be understood by everyone.

Some tips include:

  • Be mindful of the language used – you should consider using plain English, keeping sentences short, and using phrases that are easily recognisable. For more difficult or industry-specific terms and phrases, consider adding a simple explanation.
  • Explain as much as possible – abbreviations and acronyms should be avoided or explained. The language in which the content is written should be clear.
  • Use labels – labels are essential in form fields and other blank spaces in the content to ensure users know what action to take.

Make your site predictable – ensure that navigation is consistent and predictable.

Ensure Your Content Can Be Interpreted By Most User Agents

Users with disabilities might use user agents, which are software that finds, retrieve, and deliver information on behalf of the user. They might also leverage anticipated browsers and assistive technologies that can help them overcome an impairment.

While they might have supportive technologies by their side, it is important that your site is compatible with – and, thus, can be interpreted by – most user agents.

To do so, you will need to go back to the code and back-end structure of your site. During your revision, ensure that the HTML is valid and the code is compatible with assistive technologies.

Regularly Examine, Review, and Update Your Website

Technology moves and develops fast. As such, it is essential to keep your website up to date with the latest accessibility strategies and guidelines. In WCAG 2.1, you can find all the updated design principles you need to include. These also come with specific success criteria that need to be met and steps to take from the beta phase of your site onwards.

Regular testing and website audits allow you to meet and maintain all A and AA requirements for an accessible and updated website.

Design Your Site With Accessibility in Mind

Not two of your users will have exactly the same needs and experience on your site – even if their senses are not impaired by disabilities. Other aspects that might prevent people from accessing and operating your site include:

  • Location
  • Health
  • Equipment

Events such as the Covid-19 pandemic – during which work, education, and entertainment have become much more digital – can worsen this divide.

When creating your site, make sure you keep accessibility in mind, and not just for people with disabilities, but also for those with limited economic means and people dealing with illness.

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