For 30 seconds, try to count how many pieces of digital content you’ve consumed in the last 24 hours. You can probably list a few, but as we visit around 130 web pages per day, you’ve likely forgotten most of them.
If you had a disability that affected your vision, your physical movement, or comprehension, would you still be able to get all of the information you needed for that day?
Website accessibility makes sure you can – helping everybody to have equal access to the internet. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of website accessibility, from what it is to why it matters, and how you can ensure that your website is available to all.
What is website accessibility?
Website accessibility is a practice that ensure websites can be used effectively by people with disabilities. It considers factors that affect a persons visual, hearing, cognitive, or motor abilities.
Simply put, it’s a set of guidelines for website owners, that if followed, allow users to engage with online content in the manner most comfortable for them.
These guidelines include technical standards for content, visual design, and coding that improve usability, whether it’s understanding or modifying the content, or navigating the pages using assistive technologies such as screen readers or voice command devices.
The absence of these practices on a website can in some cases render it virtually unusable for certain users.
Why is website accessibility important?
Giving everyone equal access to the internet doesn’t need explanation – So instead, we’ll help to put it into context.
In the UK 18%, or around 1 in 5 people have a disability.Office for National Statistics (source) & Gov.uk (source)
This doesn’t factor in those with temporary disabilities or individuals who, while not fitting neatly into the category of “illnesses or conditions that reduce your ability to carry out day-to-day activities,” may still find specific digital tasks challenging.
The importance lies in our personal ability to create equal internet access. By prioritising accessibility, you’re taking proactive steps to ensure that individuals with digital access needs aren’t excluded from vital information, services, and the wealth of fun content posted online.
Furthermore, the benefits of having an accessible website extend beyond inclusivity. It can boost your search engine ranking, as well as improving overall usability for all users, regardless of their circumstances.
Do I have to make my website accessible ?
UK websites are required to be accessible, but the laws surrounding digital accessibility for the private sector are not entirely clear. The public sector has more defined compliance laws, but there are a few exceptions.
Under the equality act of 2010 private sector organisations are expected to make ‘reasonable adjustments‘ to ensure their services are accessible, ensuring that people with disabilities are not excluded because of their impairment.
source: business scope (source)
While the concept of “reasonable adjustment” on your website may not be entirely clear, it is your duty to eliminate barriers that hinder access to services for individuals with disabilities. This encompass both physical and digital services or facilities that your business offers.
Simply put, it is essential that your website meets some basic standards of accessibility (details of this later on), and that you support an individual if they cannot access your services.
As of the 23rd September 2018, public sector organisation must meet specific standards of accessibility by law. This level is equal to WCAG 2.1 Level AA (recognised UK standard, more on this below). This is the case for most public sector organisations:
- central government and local government organisations
- some charities and other non-government organisations
There are however some exceptions, and partial exceptions for some charities (depending on funding), public sector broadcasters, primary and secondary schools or nurseries.
For full details of your requirements, you must check the law for your organisations. the Gov.uk website is the best place to start:
Important Note: At Papaya-Studio, we are committed to promoting inclusivity and building accessible websites. However, it’s important to note that while we strive to adhere to recognised accessibility standards, we are not legally qualified to provide advice on accessibility laws. We recommend seeking professional legal support to understand how the law applies to your organisation.
What is considered an ‘accessible website’?
There are a few accessibility standards that you can use to make sure your website is optimised. The most commonly-used here in the UK are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG has three levels of compliance:
WCAG A: The basic level that ensures the website is operable by people using assistive technologies.
WCAG AA: The ideal level – ensuring the website is sufficiently usable for most people with disabilities.
WCAG AAA: The highest level of accessibility that ensure’s your website is accessible to the maximum number of people with a disability. This is typically required on websites or application with a specific audience.
To check the guidelines for each level, see the How To Meet WCAG reference guide.
What level of accessibility should I aim for?
Most organisations should aim for WCAG AA compliance, but testing and then implementing it can be challenging without professional support.
At an absolute minimum your website should meet WCAG A, and thankfully, website software like Wordpress strive to make their software WCAG 2.0 AA compliant by default. However, this cannot be upheld when adding customisations, third-party themes and plugins, and user content, so it’s best to run some test before launching.
Tools for checking website accessibility:
For an immediate overview of your website’s accessibility progress, automated testing tools like Wave can highlight key issues and suggest fixes to implement, just by entering your website URL.
If you want to meet a specific WCAG level, manual evaluation and testing is recommended to ensure full compliance.
When a specific level of accessibility isn’t required by the project, we at PapayaStudio use Wave, and a variation of the A11y Project Checklist to ensure the website’s we build are operable by most people with disabilities. A11y is built on WCAG AA principles, and is presented in an easy to follow checklist for our developers.
DIY: What are some of the best practices to make my website accessible?
Achieving a high level of accessibility requires a structured and methodical approach to evaluate and action on your website, which some organisations may not have the resources to do. To help you improve the basic accessibility of your site, we’ve compiled a list of a few key points to work through.
Below we have outlined some basic accessibility measures to kick start your site’s accessibility journey:
- Run a test using Wave to identify any major issues (Automated testing tool)
- Keep body text above 16px. (body text advice)
- Use clear and simple language (advice on clear language)
- Providing alternative text (alt texts) for images and other non-text content (alt text explanation)
- Ensure that the website’s clickable elements be reached by keyboard navigation (keyboard navigation explanation)
- Providing captions or transcripts for audio or video content (transcripts / captions explanation)
- Make sure website content has sufficient colour contrast ratios (colour contrast testing tool)
- Ensure proper use of headings:
- use a single H1 heading per page
- Use heading levels in a hierarchical order H1, H2, H3 etc. Don’t use headings just to change font size.
- Use headings to describe the content below accurately.
- (Guide to using headings)
- Check website usability when zoomed in to 200% (website zooming explanation)
- Avoid flashing website content (flashing content explanation)
Website accessibility is not an optional add-on for an organisation, but a legal and moral obligation.
Thankfully, most web platforms make it easier than ever to meet basic accessibility standards, but through own oversights, customisations and content, we unknowingly reduce accessibility – excluding some people from accessing our businesses and services.
By dedicating some time to learn about web accessibility and making positive changes to your website, you could be extending your reach to an additional 18% of potential users too! But more importantly that this, you are pro-actively supporting inclusivity and diversity by ensuring that everyone enjoys equal access to the web, regardless of their abilities.
Improving your website? Start here.
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