Making a website look good isn’t the only important part of design. Websites should also be designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. A great-looking website which is completely inaccessible to blind people is useless to an entire group of people.
There’s plenty of ways to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities, but some of the lists on how to do so are a bit overwhelming. I recommend everyone make their sites as accessible as possible, but if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a few simple things you can put into effect immediately.
- Links – Make links clear and descriptive. People who use screen readers will often end up tabbing from one link to another, or getting all the links in one list. If you set up all your links as ‘click here to read a great article’, visually impaired users will hear a long list of ‘click here’ with no other reference to where your links go. Much better would be ‘click here to read a great article‘ – though if your links are styled properly, it should be obvious where the links are without something as redundant as ‘click here’, and you could drop it completely: ‘this is a great article‘.
- Image descriptions – For best accessibility, every image should have some sort of description in its ‘alt’ tag (e.g.
<img src="image.jpg" alt="image description" />). If for some reason or another an alt tag can’t be used, making sure all the important information in the picture is included in the accompanying text is a good substitute.
- Audio transcripts – There’s a wide variety of reasons why a person might not be able to understand audio alone. It might not be possible to provide a full transcript of an hour-long seminar video, but it’s easy enough for shorter videos. This goes double if you’re working from a script or prepared statement and thus already have a written copy of everything spoken. If you can’t do a full transcript, try to at least post a useful summary.
- Autoplay – For the love of all things holy, do not have audio or video play automatically.
- It’s bad for visually-impaired people using text-to-speech screen-readers, because it interferes with the screen reader.
- It’s bad for hearing-impaired people for a whole pile of reasons, but i’ll stick with the one i’m most familiar with: people with certain auditory processing disorders can hear more or less like anyone else if there’s no conflicting sounds. If we’re trying to listen to something else and music suddenly starts up, we have trouble understanding either sound. If you can’t even get song lyrics because the words and instruments interfere with each other too much, having a conversation when a video blog has just gone on autoplay is certainly impossible.
- It’s bad for people with certain cognitive disorders who are highly sensitive to sudden, unexpected changes; imagine nails screeching on a chalkboard every time you hear something unexpected. Or, for the really loud and dramatic stuff, your speakers spontaneously combusting. Not going to be spending much longer on a website which has such effect, are you?
- It’s also annoying for able-bodied/neurotypical people who like to actually control what their own computer is doing.
- Colours – Changing colours is a quick way to change a web design, but it’s important to be sure the colours don’t ruin the site for colour-blind users. Don’t make colour the sole indicator of anything important – links, by default, are underlined as well as a different colour from the rest of the text, and the underline can be important to colour-blind users. It’s also important to be sure text and its background contrast well enough for a colour-blind user to read it. You don’t need to stick with black on white for everything, but high-contrast colours are much easier to read than colours which barely contrast at all.
Extra Web Accessibility Resources
A simple introduction to web accessibility – lists the four main types of disabilities which affect web browsing and how to help users work around them
Colour Contrast Check – allows you to check the contrast of two colours and be sure any text written with them will be legible
Wave – helps you check general accessibility
Looking for help in choosing a good, accessible colour scheme? You don’t need to stick with black-and-white to have easily-legible text! I can create a five-colour website colour scheme for you which will include colours which contrast perfectly. For $5, you can have a new website colour scheme in under 24 hours.