How accessible is your website to your visitors and customers with disabilities? Making sure your website is accessible to everyone is the right thing to do, but how do you determine the accessibility of a website?
What Does Website Accessibility Mean?
If you are an Internet user with no physical or cognitive disabilities, it is very easy to navigate the internet and consume content hosted online with a standard web browser. From the beginning, the internet has hosted pages with text, images, video, and other multimedia content that requires the use of at least three senses: sight, hearing and touch. Touch and sight are both required to utilize a mouse or touchscreen to interact with a Graphical User Interface (GUI), while hearing is required to consume multimedia content.
Life Without Senses
If you have the full use of these three senses, now imagine if you do not have the use of one or more of them. Could you navigate the websites you regularly frequent if you were blind or visually impaired? Could you watch and understand all of the video content you want to view online if you were deaf or hearing impaired? Could you navigate most websites if you were visually impaired and unable to use a mouse or a touchscreen?
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, Americans have become accustomed to the sight of accessibility fixtures at “brick and mortar” businesses. These fixtures allow customers with various disabilities to physically access and fully utilize the business establishment and include wheelchair ramps, handicap-accessible restrooms, dining tables positioned to allow wheelchair access and floor plans designed with enough space for all customers to comfortably navigate publicly-accessible areas.
Browsing with Disabilities
Now imagine that you are visiting a website. Could you readily identify whether or not the website was similarly accessible to visitors and patrons with disabilities? Many individuals with disabilities use software such as screen readers or standard browsers with settings and plugins, such as browser extensions for users that are color blind and physical peripherals designed to deliver internet content through mediums such as braille. Both software and hardware tools are very dependent on proper website design to ensure compatibility and accessibility, and poorly-designed and coded websites can leave disabled users with limited or even broken experiences.
Therefore it is vital that websites are accessible to users with disabilities. It’s not just the right thing to do for your visitors and customers – having an inaccessible website could leave a business liable for civil damages, although courts have issued conflicted rulings regarding this issue. If you conduct business with your state and/or the federal government, you could be required by law to make your website accessible.
How Do I Test My Website For Accessibility?
To begin, scan your website with an online “checker” or validator to test its accessibility. These free tools will give you a good idea whether or not your website is generally accessible or if it contains fundamental errors or omissions, rendering it inaccessible. As with other online website validators, very strict rule sets are applied, often making it difficult to achieve a completely successful result. Validator results should be used for identifying and correcting prominent errors or omissions.
Next, try a few simple tests using your own desktop or laptop PC and web browser. First, attempt to navigate through your website without using your mouse – begin by attempting to navigate through various links and inputs on your website by using the Tab key on your keyboard. Were you able to successfully access all of the links on your homepage using just your keyboard? When you highlight an image or graphical component of your website, doe s a label with a text description of the image appear? Finally, are each of the input fields on your website correctly labeled in a similar fashion?
Next, try utilizing some of the accessibility programs built in to your PC’s operating system. Microsoft Windows, Apple’s OSX and many Linux distributions have programs built in that you can use to test the accessibility of your website. If you find that a screen reader, such as Microsoft Narrator, cannot successfully access all of the content on your website, you will need to redesign your website to make this content more accessible.
Depending on the type of content you host on your website, you may have to take additional steps towards making it more accessible. For instance, if you host video content on your website, do your visitors or customers have access to Closed Captioning (CC)? One of the most prominent video sharing sites, YouTube, has an automated CC service that can be utilized, but if you are hosting your own videos or using a competing service, it is imperative that you determine how to add CC to your video content. If your website has many forms and user input fields, are all of them clearly labeled?
Finally, it is important to test the level of color contrast on your website. Visitors and customers with limited sight may have a difficult time navigating your website with a keyboard or mouse if there is insufficient color contrast among the various elements of your website. It may prove to be initially difficult to implement an original or aesthetically-pleasing design with sufficient color contrast, but small changes to the contrast can mean the difference between serving visitors and customers with visual impairments and turning those people away – sometimes permanently or to one of your competitors.
If you discover that your website has significant accessibility problems that can’t be easily fixed, or if you need further guidance determining your website’s level of accessibility, please contact us for a personal consultation!