How to build an accessible website

Nov 2

Accessibility is an area of the web that is often much misunderstood or treated as badge of honour without any real consideration towards the people it is intended for. At tappetyclick when we build accessible websites we like to treat it properly and consider it in context and we've put together a bit of a guide to help you think about it better as well

What is accessibility?

Accessibility really comes down to two main concerns:

  1. Can anyone who can use a computer use and navigate your site
  2. Does your site work well with your target audience
  3. Does your site cater for a variety of devices

Interestingly these points can often conflict; for example we have worked on websites for those with learning difficulties and web sites for users with visual impairment. These two groups of people have very different requirements; one the one hand users with learning difficulties benefit most pages with little amounts of text and lots of pictures or interactive element, whereas users with visual impairment, particularly if severe, would prefer not to have image heavy content.

An important aspect of accessibility often missed is obvious navigation. Many website don't give you a clear path to their content, you can perhaps only get to a certain page or section from a little button on the homepage. We would recommend you endeavour to ensure that as far as possible all pages or sections of your site can by accessed by a number of ways for example:

  • A feature
  • Traditional browsing of the website menu
  • A sitemap
  • A full website search
  • A clickable breadcrumb trail, so that when you arrive somewhere on the website you can see the path to the page and how you might get there again. 

This ensures that no matter how the user has become accustomed to using websites they can always find their way around.

How can you ensure you have an accessible website?

The traditional approach to website accessibility is about website code. Really this breaks down into three areas:

  1. Standards compliance: Code should be developed to one of the various standards that are available, This will generally improve the quality of website markup and mean that almost immediately the code meets the standards set out by the WAI. This obviously helps things screen readers handle your pages better, but it has the knock on effect if improving search engine performance and when using things like HTML 5 can provide extra functionality where its supported.
  2. WAI testing: There are 3 levels of WAI compliance and these cover a whole range of things from alt text on image, to making sure your font's resize, to the use of JavaScript and Flash. Unless the target audience of a website dictates you should ensure that code produced always validates to the highest WAI level possible for the solution being delivered.
  3. Browser & device testing: Generally you should aim support all standards compliant browsers ensuring that as much as possible all users will be able to use your website regardless of their chosen platform. With the rise in use of mobile technology you should ensure that you site works well on mobile & tablet devices and perhaps consider developing mobile version of your website.

The final word really on accessibility really needs to go to content and functionality. You should analyse the website you want to deliver to ensure that you don't exclude any users.

Just some of things we've done over the years that you might like to consider are:

  • Running user groups with a variety of user including where possible people with disabilities that might impair their ability to use your site.
  • Running user groups with your target audience to ensure that their users can find the content you'd like them to.
  • Creating different colour schemes for your site so that site users can change the contrast level
  • Including built in font resizing

Above all you should try to make sure that you treat accessibility as not a tick in the box but understand what the root desire for accessibility is all about.

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