Is my website accessible? And what does that actually mean?

Most people have never heard of website accessibility. And many who have, mistakenly believe it’s about having a website that can be accessed from a variety of sources – a laptop, desktop, tablet or mobile device. Others think of ramps, lifts, access maps and disabled toilets for the physical location a website might be pointing visitors to.

In fact, being ‘accessible’ online is not even clearly understood by most people who build, code, design, write, or project manage websites and digital comms channels – let alone the organisations that hire them.

Every website has a varying level of factors that makes it a little different from others. As each has different amounts of informational content, downloadable resources, ecommerce options, and links to other sites, ensuring a website is accessible means that all of the things you can read, view, listen to, or put in a shopping cart from the site, need to be accessible to people of all abilities.

Ensuring a website is accessible means that all of the things you can read, view, listen to, or put in a shopping cart from the site, need to be accessible to people of all abilities.

Achieving accessibility comes down to how a website is designed, structured and written. Google the phrase ‘web accessibility’ and you’ll find a Wiki that says it’s “the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities.”

When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality.

Ensuring a website is accessible, benefits everyone.

Most people experience temporary disability some of the time (like a migraine, sore eyes, a broken limb, side-effects from day surgery, or an ear infection), and some people have a disability all of the time. 20% of Australians have some form of permanent disability – that’s 1 in 5 of us, and as our population ages, the percentage is increasing. Websites not only need to cater to the vision-impaired, blind, deaf, and hearing impaired, they also need to cater to the usage needs of those with a cognitive disability (dyslexia, autism, etc.) as well as people with English as a second language.

Being accessible for web and digital is not an altruistic thing

Accessibility is not just the right thing to do – it also makes perfect business sense. Ensuring you are accessible online has the ability to expand your company’s market and maximise your reach. If your site is too hard to navigate, then users will go to the next competitor who is accessible. 71% of web users with a disability will simply leave a website that isn’t accessible to them and others will become negative brand ambassadors.

The global standard to prevent digital exclusion is called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and it covers a wide range of recommendations for making web and digital content more accessible. You can browse a 2019 report to understand what WCAG 2.1 guidelines cover or go to the WCAG 2.1 at a glance page for a short, sharp summary.

At present, very few websites are optimally accessible, but the number is increasing. And we’re not just talking static site content – but also downloadables such as Word docs for a job’s position description or a policy to adhere to. Check out simple tips for easy Word doc accessibility.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) in Australia prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, publicly available premises, and the provision of goods and services.

Driving this change from businesses and Government agencies is a strong desire to maximise reach, as well as minimise litigation – and the number of lawsuits being brought against inaccessible websites in the USA and Australia is on the rise including the recent case of Apple being sued for having an inaccessible website. Furthermore, digital devices that exclude sections of society are also facing lawsuits, such as the successful discrimination claim against the Commonwealth Bank in 2019 for their ‘Albert’ payments tablet.

Here are seven ways to find out just how accessible your website and landing pages really are:

1. Use an accessibility checker tool to get a quick overview

For a quick snapshot of how accessible your site is, you can use a free tool. They won’t pick up every issue, but using one will give you an overall view. Check out Wave or AChecker. Organising a paid web access audit is a far more definitive solution, as it checks around 40 key criteria from the global WCAG 2.1 level AA accessibility guidelines, along with step-by-step instructions on how to fix each access issue.

2. Test with a colour contrast analyser

Colour contrast is important for your website because it affects how some people perceive the content and information and it’s best to consider this early in the web development or site relaunch cycle. A quick, free way to check if you are WCAG 2.1 ‘AA’ colour contrast compliant is with a colour contrast analyser. Use the WebAim Contrast Checker or Paciello Group’s free colour contrast analyser for Windows or iOS.

3. Do all images across your site have Alt Text?

Images are a great way to complement or add value to the content on your site. However, a person who has low vision or is blind can’t perceive images visually. They rely on assistive technology – such as screen readers – to announce the content of an image to help them perceive the content. It must be descriptive, but concise, so a screen reader – such as JAWS or NVDA – can read out that information to the user. Use a free tool to check if your site needs remediation, like the Image Alt Test from SEOSiteCheckup.

4. Does your website have images of text?

People with low vision, visual tracking problems, or cognitive disabilities like to be able to adjust the text of a website that best accommodates their needs. This could be changing colour contrast, size and spacing of text, and the font family. If images of text are used on a website, text can’t be customised and it can’t be read by a screen reader if it is an image. Best practice is that all text on a website should be customisable. The only exception to this is a company’s branding logo (which should have Alt Text, of course).

5. Avoid carousels that can’t be paused or stopped

Carousels are commonly used on sites to provide a useful way to highlight featured content or portray key messages visually or with text, and sometimes audio, in a revolving display. However, the moving or scrolling content can be a distraction for most people and can be a problem for people who have difficulty reading or understanding content quickly or who are easily distracted by moving content. Give users the opportunity to pause or stop a carousel with a button, plus volume control for audio.

6. Can your website be navigated using only a keyboard?

Some users may have a temporary disability (a broken arm or when they are carrying a small child, etc.). Others may have a permanent disability with RSI, arthritis, or hand tremors. There are also people who use assistive technologies such as screen readers. All of these user-groups rely on using a keyboard to navigate through a website, which is why it is important to make sure your website is accessible via keyboard use. The best way to test is to see if you can navigate and use your website using only the keyboard.

7. Include a ‘skip to content’ link

Including a ‘skip to content’ link is incredibly useful for keyboard-only users. If they have to navigate through a lot of links at the top of a page before getting to the actual content every time they load a new page, it’s very frustrating. Providing a hidden link at the top of the webpage allows the user to bypass repeated content in the navigation bar, and go straight to main content. It’s easy to implement with simple code, and WebAIM provides a way to skip to content.

Need a hand with your website accessibility?

Orion Creative has a number of team members with expertise in the area of web and digital accessibility. We can make your website legal and compliant by making it accessible to customers and prospects with disabilities. As a result, your online and digital communications can optimise reach, maximise impact, and minimise the risk of exclusion and potential discrimination litigation. Contact us for a chat.