In today’s digital age, having a website is essential for any business or organisation. However, not all websites are created equal when it comes to accessibility.
Website accessibility refers to the practice of making websites usable by people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments.
What is website accessibility?
Website accessibility means designing and coding websites in a way that accommodates all users, regardless of their abilities. This includes making sure that users with disabilities can access and interact with all the information and functions on the website.
Accessibility can be achieved through various means, including using appropriate colour contrast, providing alternative text for images and multimedia, and designing for keyboard-only navigation.
Accessibility also extends to the use of assistive technology. In the UK, many people with disabilities use assistive technology to access the internet.
This includes screen readers, which read out the content of the website, and speech recognition software, which allows users to control the website through voice commands.
It’s important to design websites in a way that is compatible with these technologies to ensure that everyone can access the website’s content and functionality.
Importance of accessibility in the UK
Accessibility is a legal requirement in the UK. The Equality Act 2010 requires that all organisations make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their services are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.
This applies to websites as well. The UK government has set a goal of making all public sector websites accessible by 2025. Failure to comply with accessibility laws can result in legal action, fines, and damage to your organisation’s reputation.
Beyond legal requirements, designing for accessibility is also important from a moral and ethical perspective.
Everyone should have equal access to information and services on the internet, regardless of their abilities.
Inclusivity is a core value of modern and progressive society, and designing for accessibility helps to promote this value.
Benefits of designing for accessibility
Designing for accessibility has numerous benefits. First and foremost, it ensures that your website is accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities.
This can help to increase your website’s traffic and engagement, as well as improve your organisation’s reputation as a socially responsible and inclusive entity.
Accessible websites are also more usable for all users, not just those with disabilities. For example, providing clear and concise headings and well-organised content helps all users find the information they need more quickly and easily.
Designing for accessibility can also improve website performance, as it often involves optimising code and reducing page load times.
Designing for accessibility can also help your organisation comply with international standards and best practices. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines for website accessibility that are recognised worldwide.
Complying with these guidelines can help your website be more accessible and user-friendly for people with disabilities, and can also improve your organisation’s standing in the global market.
Understanding Accessibility Standards in the UK
Designing an accessible website means adhering to specific standards and guidelines set by regulatory bodies. In the UK, accessibility standards are governed by both legal requirements and international best practices.
Overview of UK accessibility laws
In the UK, website accessibility is regulated by the Equality Act 2010. The Act states that it is illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities by not making reasonable adjustments to services, including websites.
The act applies to all websites, including those of private businesses, public sector organisations, and third-sector organisations. The Act requires organisations to ensure that their websites are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
In addition to the Equality Act, there are also specific regulations that apply to public sector websites.
The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 states that all public sector organisations must comply with the WCAG 2.1 AA standard by September 2020.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that provide a framework for making websites accessible to people with disabilities.
The guidelines are organised into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, with AA being the minimum standard required by law in the UK.
WCAG guidelines cover a wide range of accessibility issues, including text alternatives for non-text content, keyboard accessibility, and colour contrast. The guidelines are regularly updated to keep up with changes in technology and user needs.
The most recent version, WCAG 2.1, was released in 2018 and includes new guidelines for mobile accessibility and cognitive disabilities.
Organisations can test their websites for WCAG compliance using a variety of tools, including automated testing tools and manual testing. Compliance with WCAG guidelines not only ensures legal compliance but also improves the overall user experience of the website.
Assistive technology used in the UK
Assistive technology refers to software or hardware that enables people with disabilities to access and use computers and the Internet. There are many types of assistive technology used in the UK, including:
- Screen readers: software that reads out the content of a website using synthesised speech or braille output.
- Screen magnifiers: software that enlarges the content of a website to make it easier to read.
- Speech recognition software: software that allows users to control their computer or website through voice commands.
- Braille displays hardware that converts digital text into braille output for users who are blind or visually impaired.
- Switch access: hardware that allows users with motor disabilities to control their computer or website using switches instead of a keyboard or mouse.
Designing for accessibility means making sure that websites are compatible with assistive technology. For example, websites must be compatible with screen readers by using alternative text for images and providing clear and concise headings.
Additionally, websites must be navigable using only a keyboard, as many users with disabilities use keyboard-only navigation.
Designing for accessibility in the UK means complying with both legal requirements and international best practices.
The WCAG guidelines provide a framework for designing accessible websites, and compliance with these guidelines ensures that websites are usable by all users, including those with disabilities.
Finally, designing for accessibility also means making sure that websites are compatible with the various types of assistive technology used in the UK.
Conducting an Accessibility Audit
Conducting an accessibility audit is an important step in ensuring that your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
Preparing for an audit
Before conducting an accessibility audit, it is important to understand the scope of the audit and the resources required. Some key factors to consider include:
- The size and complexity of the website
- The types of content and functionality on the website
- The experience and expertise of the audit team
- The tools and techniques to be used in the audit
It is also important to communicate with stakeholders and involve them in the audit process. This includes website owners, developers, and any third-party vendors who provide tools or plugins for the website.
Identifying accessibility issues on your website
The first step in conducting an accessibility audit is to identify potential accessibility issues on your website. This can be done using a variety of techniques, including:
- Manual testing: manually navigating the website using assistive technology such as a screen reader, and identifying any barriers to accessibility.
- Automated testing: using automated testing tools to scan the website for accessibility issues, such as missing alternative text for images or improper use of headings.
- User testing: working with users with disabilities to test the website and identify any issues they may encounter.
Common accessibility issues that may be identified during an audit include:
- Inaccessible forms: forms that are not navigable using a keyboard or do not provide clear instructions for completing the form
- Inaccessible media: media such as images or videos that do not have alternative text or captions.
- Poor colour contrast: text or background colours that do not provide enough contrast for users with visual impairments.
- Poorly structured content: content that is not properly structured with headings and lists, making it difficult to navigate using assistive technology.
Evaluating the accessibility of third-party tools and plugins
Many websites use third-party tools or plugins, such as social media widgets or advertising platforms. These tools can sometimes create accessibility barriers that must be identified and addressed during an accessibility audit.
When evaluating the accessibility of third-party tools and plugins, it is important to consider:
- The accessibility features provided by the tool or plugin
- The compatibility of the tool or plugin with assistive technology
- The level of control the website owner has over the tool or plugin
If a third-party tool or plugin is found to be inaccessible, the website owner should work with the vendor to find a solution or consider alternative tools or plugins that are more accessible.
Best Practices for Designing Accessible Websites
Designing a website that is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, requires a thoughtful approach to design and development. In this section, we will discuss some best practices for designing accessible websites.
Choosing a colour scheme that works for everyone
Choosing a colour scheme that provides enough contrast for users with visual impairments is an important aspect of designing an accessible website.
The WCAG provides guidelines for colour contrast ratios that should be followed to ensure that text is readable for all users.
To ensure that your colour scheme is accessible, consider using colour contrast checkers and simulators during the design process.
Additionally, avoid using colour as the only means of conveying information, as users with colour blindness may not be able to differentiate between certain colours.
Designing for different screen sizes
Designing for different screen sizes is essential for ensuring that your website is accessible on a variety of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Responsive design techniques can be used to ensure that content is displayed appropriately on different screen sizes.
When designing for different screen sizes, it is also important to consider how users with mobility impairments may interact with the website.
For example, buttons and links should be large enough to be easily clicked on a touchscreen device, and menus should be easy to navigate using a keyboard.
Using proper heading structure
Proper heading structure is important for ensuring that users with visual impairments can navigate your website using assistive technology such as a screen reader.
Headings should be used to organise content hierarchically, with the main heading (H1) representing the main topic or theme of the page.
It is also important to ensure that headings are used consistently throughout the website. For example, all pages should have an H1 heading, and subheadings should be used to break up content into smaller sections.
Writing accessible content
Writing accessible content involves using clear and concise language that is easy to understand for all users. This is especially important for users with cognitive or learning disabilities.
Some tips for writing accessible content include:
- Using simple language and avoiding jargon
- Breaking up content into short paragraphs with descriptive subheadings
- Using lists to highlight key points
- Avoiding using all caps or excessive punctuation
- Providing alternative text for images and multimedia
Providing alternative text for images and multimedia is important for users with visual impairments who may not be able to see the content.
Alternative text should be concise and descriptive, providing enough information for the user to understand the content of the image or multimedia.
When providing alternative text for images, it is also important to consider the context in which the image is used. For example, if an image is used as a link, the alternative text should describe the destination of the link.
Making forms accessible
Making forms accessible involves ensuring that users with disabilities can navigate and complete forms on your website. Some tips for making forms accessible include:
- Using clear labels for form fields
- Providing instructions for completing the form
- Ensuring that the form can be navigated using a keyboard
- Using error messages that are easy to understand and describe how to correct the error
Navigation and User Experience
Navigation and user experience play a crucial role in designing an accessible website. In this section, we will discuss some best practices for designing navigation and user experience that is inclusive of all users, including those with disabilities.
Designing a clear and consistent navigation
Designing clear and consistent navigation is important for ensuring that users can easily find the content they are looking for on your website. Some tips for designing clear and consistent navigation include:
- Using descriptive labels for navigation links
- Grouping related content together
- Using a breadcrumb trail to show the user’s location within the website
- Using a sitemap to provide an overview of the website’s content
It is also important to ensure that the navigation is consistent across all pages of the website and that it is easy to access from any page.
Improving website speed and performance
Improving website speed and performance is important for ensuring that users can access your website quickly and efficiently. This is especially important for users with slow internet connections or limited data plans.
Some tips for improving website speed and performance include:
- Optimising images and multimedia to reduce the file size
- Minimising HTTP requests by reducing the number of scripts and stylesheets used on the website
- Enabling browser caching to reduce the server load
- Using a content delivery network (CDN) to improve website load times for users in different geographic locations
- Making your website responsive
Some tips for making your website responsive include:
- Using flexible layouts that adapt to different screen sizes
- Using media queries to adjust styles based on the device being used
- Designing with touchscreens in mind, using larger buttons and touch-friendly controls
- Providing alternative navigation options for users who may have difficulty with touchscreens, such as voice commands or keyboard navigation
Implementing keyboard navigation
Implementing keyboard navigation is important for ensuring that users with mobility impairments or visual impairments can navigate your website using a keyboard or assistive technology such as a screen reader. Some tips for implementing keyboard navigation include:
- Ensuring that all content can be accessed using the keyboard alone
- Using a logical tab order to ensure that keyboard users can navigate content in a logical manner
- Providing keyboard shortcuts for frequently used functions
- Using clear focus states to indicate which element has keyboard focus
Accessibility Testing and Validation
Accessibility testing and validation are crucial steps in ensuring that your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. In this section, we will discuss some tools and resources for accessibility testing, conducting user testing, and validating your website for accessibility compliance.
Tools and resources for accessibility testing
There are several tools and resources available for accessibility testing, including automated testing tools, manual testing methods, and accessibility checklists. Some popular automated testing tools include:
- Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE)
- Accessibility Insights
Manual testing methods can also be used to identify accessibility issues that may not be detected by automated tools. Some popular manual testing methods include:
- Keyboard-only navigation testing
- Screen reader testing
- Colour contrast testing
Accessibility checklists can also be used to identify accessibility issues on your website. These checklists provide a list of guidelines and best practices for designing an accessible website.
Conducting user testing
User testing is an important step in identifying accessibility issues on your website. User testing involves having people with disabilities test your website to identify any accessibility barriers.
When conducting user testing, it is important to recruit a diverse group of users with a range of disabilities. This can include users with visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and cognitive impairments.
User testing can be conducted in a variety of ways, including in-person testing, remote testing, and moderated testing. During user testing, participants should be asked to perform a variety of tasks on the website to identify any accessibility barriers.
Validating your website for accessibility compliance
Validating your website for accessibility compliance involves testing your website against accessibility standards and guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is a set of guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that provide a framework for designing an accessible website.
To validate your website for accessibility compliance, you can use a variety of tools and techniques, including:
- Manual testing methods
- Automated testing tools
- Expert reviews
- WCAG evaluation and reporting tools
Once you have identified any accessibility issues on your website, you should work to address them as soon as possible. This may involve making changes to your website’s design, content, or code.
Maintaining accessibility is an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring and updates to ensure that your website remains accessible to all users. In this section, we will discuss some best practices for maintaining accessibility on your website.
Monitoring website accessibility over time
Monitoring website accessibility over time involves regularly checking your website for accessibility issues and making updates as needed. This can be done using the same tools and techniques used for initial accessibility testing, such as automated testing tools, manual testing methods, and accessibility checklists.
It is important to monitor your website’s accessibility regularly, as changes to your website’s design or content can introduce new accessibility issues. By regularly monitoring your website’s accessibility, you can quickly identify and address any new accessibility issues that arise.
Fixing accessibility issues
Fixing accessibility issues involves making changes to your website’s design, content, or code to address any accessibility barriers. This may involve making changes to your website’s colour scheme, providing alternative text for images, or improving keyboard navigation.
When fixing accessibility issues, it is important to prioritise issues based on their impact on users. For example, issues that affect the ability of users to complete important tasks on your website should be given a higher priority than issues that have a minor impact on usability.
Creating accessible documentation and resources for website users
Creating accessible documentation and resources for website users can help to ensure that all users can access and use your website effectively. This may include providing alternative formats for documents, such as PDFs or Word documents, or providing video tutorials with captions and transcripts.
When creating accessible documentation and resources, it is important to follow the same accessibility guidelines used for your website. This can help to ensure that all users can access and use the documentation and resources effectively.
Providing ongoing training and education
Providing ongoing training and education to your website team can help to ensure that accessibility is prioritised throughout the development and maintenance of your website.
This may involve providing training on accessibility guidelines and best practices or providing resources and tools to help team members identify and address accessibility issues.
By providing ongoing training and education, you can help to ensure that accessibility remains a priority throughout the lifespan of your website.
Maintaining accessibility on your website requires regular monitoring and updates to ensure that your website remains accessible to all users.
By monitoring website accessibility over time, fixing accessibility issues, creating accessible documentation and resources for website users, and providing ongoing training and education, you can ensure that your website is inclusive and accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
The Business Case for Website Accessibility
Creating an accessible website is not only a legal requirement in the UK, but it also makes good business sense.
The cost of inaccessible websites
Inaccessible websites can have significant costs for businesses. In the UK, businesses can face legal action for not complying with accessibility laws, resulting in expensive lawsuits, fines, and legal fees.
In addition, inaccessible websites can result in lost business opportunities as potential customers with disabilities are unable to access or use the website.
Furthermore, inaccessible websites can also result in additional costs for businesses. For example, website owners may need to create alternative accessible versions of their websites or may need to hire consultants or developers to help fix accessibility issues.
Benefits of inclusive design for Business
Designing for accessibility can have numerous benefits for businesses.
By creating an inclusive website, businesses can improve the user experience for all users, not just those with disabilities. This can lead to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement, as well as increased sales and revenue.
In addition, designing for accessibility can help businesses to reach a larger audience. Approximately one in five people in the UK have a disability, meaning that businesses that do not design for accessibility are missing out on a significant portion of the population.
By designing for accessibility, businesses can make their products and services available to a wider range of customers, increasing their potential customer base.
Finally, designing for accessibility can also help to improve the brand image of a business. By demonstrating a commitment to accessibility, businesses can show that they value all customers and are committed to creating an inclusive and accessible environment.