October 1, 2020

How to Make Your Website Accessible to Users with Disabilities

Digital inclusion is a topic of growing importance for every marketer and business owner and if you have a website, you must make it accessible to people who are blind, deaf or have certain other disabilities.

It’s going to be the law.

Legislation in EU, UK & USA

In 2016 the European Union passed a law (Web Accessibility Directive) which mandates that all public sector websites need to make necessary changes and become more accessible to people with disabilities.

That law has taken effect just little more than a year ago, on September 23rd 2019, but only for websites made after September 2018. Older websites, those that were made before September 2018, became affected by the law just a week ago, on September 23rd 2020. 

Mobile apps, on the other hand, must conform by June 23rd 2021.

Last year, in 2019, the EU passed a complementary law (European Accessibility Act) which mandates that all private companies must also make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities. Member states must adopt and publish necessary laws, regulations and administrative provisions by 2022, and the requirements of the European accessibility act must already have been implemented.

In the UK, we already had a law that made it illegal not to provide services to a disabled person that is normally provided to others. Online services, such as ecommerce shopping or transportation ticket reservation, are also included.

Besides that, the EU law continues to be applied in the UK during the transitional period.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a similar law has existed for 30 years and it’s called Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) 

Even though it didn’t mention websites or mobile apps when it was passed in 1990, the US Department of Justice holds that ADA applies to all segments of business, including websites or apps.

Why You Should Care

Apart from fines for breaking the law, marketers and business owners should also be aware of the fact that 15% to 20% of the population has some kind of disability.

Therefore, if you develop a website that isn’t accessible to deaf (e.g. no subtitles or transcripts for video and audio files) or blind users (e.g. no alt text to describe the image), you will practically close the door to every fifth visitor!

Imagine losing one fifth of your revenue because you neglected accessibility during website development. 

Such a waste, isn’t it?

5 ways to Make Your Website Accessible to Users with Disabilities

Luckily, making your website accessible doesn’t have to be complicated. You can start implementing some changes today and below you can find 5 important and simple steps that will take you in the right direction.

1. Enable Keyboard Navigation

Many assistive technologies use a keyboard to navigate the website. Most commonly it’s done with the Tab key. The goal here is to make all your content accessible with a keyboard. You can test accessibility by unplugging the mouse and trying to navigate the website just by using the Tab key.

2. Add Alt Text to Images

This step is not only going to make your website more accessible to visually imparied people who make use of screen readers to understand what your website is about, but also to search engines that are basically doing the same thing. 

Both visually impaired people and search engines such as Google can’t see the image, but only read its description. That’s why adding alt text can also help your website rank better in search results. If you add a keyword to the alt text and someone searches for that keyword under the Images tab on Google, your image (and your website) might appear in search results.

3. Choose Colours That Make Reading Easier

Text and background must be in contrast. This should be the rule independent of any laws and regulations; it should be common sense. 

However, some people are color-blind while others, especially those with learning disabilities, greatly benefit from using colours to organize the content. You can satisfy both groups by simultaneously using colour and other visual indicators (arrows, question marks, etc.) and by adding white space between blocks of content.

4. Use Headlines to Structure Your Content

This is another step that will make your content compliant with accessibility laws and better in terms of search engine optimisation. Both screen readers and search engines will use headlines to navigate the content.

Use only one H1 header and then start adding H2 as subheadings while nesting others under it as H3, H4, etc.

5. Make Audio and Video Files More Easily Accessible

For regular users, autoplay videos can be annoying, but for users with disabilities, they’re even worse. For example, when using a screen reader, it can be hard to turn off that video or audio file.

Besides avoiding autoplay, you should also add subtitles to video and transcript to audio files to make them accessible to deaf people.

If you need help in understanding accessibility and implementing necessary changes to your website, feel free to get in touch and Flow20 will be happy to help.

About Shirish Agarwal

Shirish Agarwal is the founder of Flow20 and looks after the PPC and SEO side of things. Shirish also regularly contributes to leading digital marketing publications such as Hubspot, SEMRush, Wordstream and Outbrain. Connect with him on LinkedIn.