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Websites are fine-tuned to the user’s interests across many dimensions. The content, visual language and navigation combine to create a user experience that tells your brand’s story.

Unfortunately, when it comes to accessibility for websites, many fail to tailor experiences for all needs.

One billion people in the world have some form of disability. That means one out of every six visitors to your website could be someone with a disability.

It’s not complicated to ensure your website is available to everyone, regardless of ability. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are a universally accepted set of accessibility standards that improve web design accessibility for all. They provide in-depth technical information about every aspect of your website.

We’ll break down the main principles you need to know to make sure your website’s user experience is accessible to all.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Website Accessibility in the Context of UX

Accessibility for Websites

Final Thoughts: 5 Tips To Achieve Accessibility for Websites

Website Accessibility in the Context of UX

Some may confuse the concept of accessibility with usability.  Accessible websites are those where people with disabilities can equally understand and interact with the content and features.

Accessibility features on a website include alternative image descriptions for screen readers or closed captioning for video content. 

Alternative text input box in WordPress’s photo library
Image Source

For example, you can add alt-text when uploading a photo to WordPress to make it accessible.

In contrast, usability pertains to more general aspects of websites that everyone encounters. Usability features may include navigation tabs at the top of the website, making it easy for users to find the content they’re looking for.

It’s important to note that not all accessibility considerations are for those with permanent disabilities. There are three ways a user’s abilities may be limited:

  • Permanently: When a user has a permanent disability, like visual impairment.
  • Temporarily: When a user had their eyes dilated and cannot see clearly.
  • Situationally: When a user is in bright direct sunlight and cannot make out the low-contrast details on their phone screen.

Designing websites for accessibility ultimately improves the user experience for all.

But what exactly makes a website accessible?

You can break the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines into four guiding principles.

Accessible websites are:

  • Perceivable: The information on the page must be perceivable to their senses. That often means providing multiple methods of perceiving content so that a user does not have to rely solely on sight, sound or touch.
  • Operable: All users should be able to interact with the website in a variety of ways. For example, a user should be capable of navigating a website with keyboard operations in place of mouse or touch movements.
  • Understandable: All users should be able to understand the information on the website. For example, you should clearly define abbreviations and jargon and make the website’s operation predictable.  
  • Robust: The elements and information must be compatible with all users and technologies, including future technologies. Responsive web design is one way UX designers can create website experiences that are robust enough to support a wide range of browsers.
PPerceivableUsers can perceive content
OOperableUsers can perform the actions required to operate the website
UUnderstandableUsers can understand the information and operation
RRobustUsers can access the content from any assistive technology

Web Content Accessibility Guideline Principles

Now let’s go over the basics of website accessibility to show you how these principles translate to website design.

Accessibility for Websites

  1. Convey Information With More Than Color
  2. Create Alternative Webpage Views
  3. Enable Many Kinds of Input
  4. Consider Content Timing
  5. Construct Helpful Navigation

These are the things you must account for to make your website more accessible. Keep reading to learn what each tip entails.

1. Convey Information With More Than Color

It can be challenging for those with limited vision or colorblindness to navigate and understand webpages that rely solely on color to convey context or information. Accessibility for websites means considering these differences.

For example, a bar chart showing several results should not rely on color alone to differentiate between values. While you can use color, additional pattern overlays and labels make the chart understandable for more users.

In user experience design, error messages convey essential information about how to use a webpage. For instance, when a user types their email into a form field and makes a typo, the text turns red.

Without further context, you cannot convey this information to a large number of people. A more accessible way to display error messages is to include a popup of microcopy that explains the error.

When it comes to color and text,  it is also vital to make high-contrast color choices. That helps users with low vision and makes your website more usable in low-visibility situations like bright direct sunlight.

The recommended contrast ratio is 4.5:1. The correct contrast ratio can sometimes be hard to determine just from looking.

Six buttons at various levels of contrast
Image Source

That’s why it’s a good idea to use a contrast ratio checker to verify your contrast ratio is high enough.

2. Create Alternative Webpage Views

Webpages rely heavily on visuals, which can sometimes be difficult for those with vision impairment to perceive. It’s crucial to provide alternative ways for users to perceive all the content on a page.

Assistive technologies like screen readers audibly read aloud visual elements of webpages so that users can understand them.

However, website designers must provide this alternative text for readers to users. Alternative text descriptions are one of the main ways for website designers to do this.

Alt text is an HTML markup that describes a non-decorative image. It should be as descriptive as possible while remaining short.

As a tool for website accessibility, Alt text also offers other benefits. For instance, adding Alt text is good for your website from an SEO standpoint because it helps Google understand more about the content and context of your webpage.

Although images are the primary visuals that you may think of when talking about a webpage or article, the overall structure, hierarchy, and navigation of a webpage is also a visual element. To create a fully accessible webpage, this should also be able to be conveyed with text alone.

For example, when information relies on a specific sequence to be understood, the sequence should be determined by a reader with HTML structural markup.

3. Enable Many Kinds of Input

You must consider keyboard-only navigation when optimizing your website for accessibility.

There are many different reasons that a user would need to use keyboard navigation, including assistive readers like braille keyboards and those with mobility differences.

That’s why keyboard navigation is one of the most critical accessibility functionalities. To improve keyboard navigation, ensure that the tab key moves in a logical sequence, and the user has the option to skip to the main content.

Make it clear when a particular element is selected by using focus states. That is often represented by a color change or box around the object.

The Dockyard shares their accessible focus states in an animated example:

Animated gif of five webpage buttons outlined by a blue square in sequence.
Image Source

You should avoid requiring motion inputs for your website or app on mobile devices or allow the user to choose alternative inputs. Audio-only inputs could also be inaccessible to those hard of hearing.

4. Consider Content Timing

The web is moving more towards animated and dynamic content to capture the attention of users.

However, that can pose an issue for website accessibility since screen readers cannot always load the updated information, causing users to miss important details.

To make dynamic content more accessible, let users stop, pause or turn off changing elements. WAI-ARIA guidelines provide in-depth technical solutions to make advanced webpages with dynamic content or JavaScript more accessible.

Additionally, give users plenty of time on web applications with timeouts. Some users may need more time to read instructions, for example, if they have dyslexia.

If re-authentication is required, allow data to be recovered or make sure that users are informed of any potential data loss. In general, you should make it hard for unintended negative consequences to happen.

5. Construct Helpful Navigation

The title and headings of a webpage should make it immediately apparent what content they contain. Effective navigation helps users of all abilities find the information they’re looking for efficiently and satisfyingly.

Some users can immediately tell which text is the title and heading based on its size or color. For other users, the text markup language is essential.

Use title and header tags (H1 through H6) to differentiate each section of your page. That also means you should avoid using HTML tags for stylistic effects alone.

Header tags H1 through H4 shown with suggested uses and hierarchy.
Image Source

Moreover, hyperlinks should be descriptive about the page you are linking to for internal and external links. Rather than linking “click here” or another vague phrase, make sure the user knows what to expect on the webpage they are about to open.

Consistent, predictable navigation is a crucial element to successful user experience design and accessible website design. When wireframing, make sure that your navigation follows a logical user journey.

For accessibility, it is also best practice to make sure important pages can be reachable by many different paths.

Final Thoughts: 5 Tips To Achieve Accessibility for Websites

Ensuring your website is accessible is essential because the guidelines improve user experience and benefit more users than you may think.

The content and navigation of your webpage should be perceivable, understandable and operable for a wide variety of users, regardless of their ability.

Although the number of guidelines out there may seem overwhelming, you can continuously improve the accessibility for websites by testing your website and including persons with disabilities in your user testing.

Even if you aren’t an expert in HTML markup or webpage design, you can still create a beautiful and accessible website thanks to WordPress. Once you do, make sure to back up its simple templates and content management system with reliable hosting.

Check out our WordPress hosting plans today to provide an excellent user experience to all users.

  • Machielle Thomas

    Machielle is a content enthusiast who has a passion for bridging the gap between audiences and brands through impactful storytelling. Machielle has also spoken at dozens of WordCamps throughout the years.

    Texas State University
    Previous Experience
    Brand Content, Content Marketing, Brand Lead, Operations Lead, Course Instructor
    Other publications
    Shopify, Contently
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