The web was created with everyone in mind, no matter their abilities or challenges. Today, more than a billion people in the world live with some kind of disability, which can make navigating certain websites difficult. As such, it’s vital to build sites that are as accessible as possible.
Fortunately, by adhering to a few key best practices, you can ensure that your site is inclusive to as many potential members as possible. This can be as simple as adding alt text to all the images you use. It's easier than you might expect to adapt your site to the needs of all users.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best ways to make your site user-friendly to everyone. Let's get started!
Why Accessibility Is Vital on Your Website
As we mentioned earlier, the web was designed to be used by everyone – no matter their software, location, language, or ability. In fact, Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with the web’s creation, once said: ‘‘The power of the web is in its universality – access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Making a site accessible means keeping that goal in sight.
The impact of a disability can be reduced when using the internet, or it can be exacerbated. When websites aren’t designed with accessibility in mind, they can create barriers that unnecessarily exclude large groups of people. For this reason, striving for full accessibility shouldn’t be an option. Rather, it needs to be an essential part of any website's development.
What's more, accessible sites are not only beneficial to those with permanent disabilities. There are a number of additional reasons people may need the extra support online, such as:
- Older people, who may have changing abilities due to the aging process
- Those with temporary injuries, such as a broken arm
- Anyone experiencing ‘situational limitations’, such as visitors who are in an environment where they can’t listen to audio
If you've chosen to build your membership site with WordPress, you're in luck. The platform puts several options in place to assist you in making your site accessible. This includes providing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) you can follow, and offering access to plenty of useful plugins. However, there's no reason to stop there.
4 Ways to Enhance Your Membership Site’s Accessibility
While the features mentioned above are key, it's also important to put some effort into making your individual site as accessible as it can be. By following the steps outlined below, and assessing your progress using a tool like WAVE, you'll be well on your way to a more user-friendly site for 2019.
1. Ensure That Your Site Can Be Navigated With Only a Keyboard
Many people use assistive technologies to help them navigate websites, meaning that they rely entirely on their keyboards. For this reason, it’s vital that the key features of your site are easily accessible without using a mouse – making correctly coded websites vital.
Messy HTML will make keyboard navigation more difficult, as it makes the structure of your pages less clear. Using clean HTML, well-defined headers, and CSS coding for visual elements will improve the way your pages flow, allowing for much easier access.
In addition, the most common way of navigating using just a keyboard is via the Tab key. This enables a user to move between areas of a page that have ‘keyboard focus’. You can easily test your site by attempting to visit various pages with just the Tab key, and making note of areas that are not easily accessible.
2. Add ‘Alt Text' to Your Site’s Images
You may have seen the option to add ‘alt text’ to images in WordPress before. One purpose for this feature is to provide alternative text content, to be displayed in case an image doesn’t load.
However, adding alt text to an image also makes it easier for those using screen readers to understand your content. The inclusion of alt text enables such users to ‘read’ the picture, rather than to see it. This is incredibly important for those with visual impairments.
You can find plenty of advice on creating the perfect alt text. What matters most, however, is that you describe the image in detail. Instead of simply including a word or two, aim for a complete sentence that concisely but clearly explains what the image is, so anyone who can't see it will understand its purpose.
3. Carefully Select the Colors Used on Your Site
Perception of color is a spectrum, and for many, viewing certain colors is difficult or impossible. The term ‘color blindness' is a familiar one, but color vision deficiency is a more apt (and less potentially misleading) description.
Due to the many different visual impairments people can have, there are a number of things to consider on your site. For example, some people require a higher contrast, whereas others are more sensitive to color brightness. One of the ways you can account for these needs is by ensuring that your text clearly stands out from the background of your site. In addition, there should be a sufficient contrast between text colors and backgrounds.
To ensure that your site is highly accessible, you can follow the guidelines provided by the WCAG. These provide set standards for color contrast levels. In addition to this, there are a number of different tools that will help you effectively assess your site's design, such as WebAim and Contrast Checker.
4. Make Sure Your Text Is Easily Resizable
Most assistive technologies, as well as browsers, allow users to resize text. This functionality is vital for those with visual impairments. Therefore, it's best to build your site with this possibility in mind, and ensure that it enables text to be easily resized.
One way of doing this is by ensuring that you don't ever turn off user scalability when creating content for your site. This will make it difficult for users to resize the text. It’s also beneficial to avoid setting text size using pixels, and to use relative sizes instead. This makes sure the text can scale with your content and each user's screen size.
You can test your font sizes by viewing your site on the front end, and increasing the zoom level by various degrees. This should help you identify areas for improvement, and find content that may be difficult to read or navigate. In addition, try to limit your use of incredibly small text and tables – these are difficult for screen readers and magnifiers to pick up and adapt effectively.
It’s vital that the content we create online is fully accessible to everyone. Websites that are not designed with accessibility in mind run the risk of excluding entire groups of people, and as the founder of the web himself said: “The power of the web is in its universality”.
In this post, we've gone over some of the ways you can boost your site’s accessibility. Let’s recap them briefly:
- Ensure that your website can be easily navigated with just a keyboard.
- Add alt text to all images, as this enables them to be ‘read’ instead of just viewed.
- Use contrasting colors to increase the visibility of your text.
- Make sure your text is optimized for resizing.
Do you have any more questions about how to improve the accessibility of your site? Let us know in the comments section below!