Twitter LinkedIn

Ten tips to support a more accessible website

  • By 3chillies

Digital accessibility is an area that is very important but not always fully understood by digital teams. Ensuring a website meets the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 accessibility guidelines is often a standard objective for a website project. However, in practise this is not always reached or maintained. It's also an area where we are often asked by digital teams how they can ensure their website is more accessible.

Accessibility is a complex area that can be quite technical and requires a list of different tactics and approaches. People have written entire books on accessibility and there is simply not space to go into everything here. However, many of the issues that lead to websites failing on accessibility can be remedied in a fairly straightforward way.

In this post we're going to explore ten tips that can help digital teams keep on top of website accessibility; however, it should not be regarded as an exhaustive list of everything you need to do.

What is website accessibility?

At a high level, website accessibility can be regarded as the practice of making your website and its content more usable to as many people as possible, including those living with disabilities. This is not just those who are visually impaired, the WCAG guidelines on accessibility are targeted to support groups with “blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.”

More specifically accessibility is also associated with meeting the AA level of compliance of the WCAG 2.1 accessibility guidelines. These guidelines have been defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and are effectively regarded as a global standard. The guidelines cover various technical guidelines that impact both your Content Management System but also your content too; following them will ensure your website and content are more accessible, for example providing support for the use of assistive technologies such as screen readers or being able to navigate through a website just by using a keyboard.

Why is accessibility important?

Website accessibility is very important. An accessible website has multiple benefits including ensuring your website and its content:

  • meet regulatory and legal requirements around accessibility compliance, critical in some sectors, such as government.
  • can be accessed by those living with disabilities, who inevitably will be a significant part of your intended audience.
  • meets your organisation’s commitments to diversity and inclusion, and doesn’t discriminate against those living with disabilities.
  • have a generally improved usability and user experience that everybody benefits from.

Ten tips to improve website accessibility

Here is our view of ten tips to improve website accessibility.

  1. View accessibility as a content management issue
  2. A key aspect of accessibility that is not always appreciated is that it is not just a case of having a content management system (CMS) that supports accessibility compliance or a website that is fully accessible when it is first launched. Actually, accessibility requires an ongoing effort around managing your content so it is accessible. For example, you could add an image that has poor colour contrast or forget to add alt text to an image. Making changes to your CMS or adding new page templates may also mean your website no longer achieves compliance to the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

    It is imperative to view accessibility and related components as an ongoing effort that requires ongoing management and testing. It is not a tick-box exercise or singular activity that only happens when you launch your website. Accessibility needs to be viewed as an ongoing content management issue.

  3. Use a range of accessibility tools for ongoing testing
  4. The website accessibility market is mature with a variety of different tools that can be used to support accessibility, principally through testing. Some of these are free and have specific uses – for example checking colour contrast – while others are paid for. The number of free tools is extensive, but as always remember for a more comprehensive tool you normally need to pay for it.

    Your CMS may also say it supports accessibility, but generally the features tend to be more limited. Use these tools to help test for accessibility on an ongoing basis, ensuring you keep on top of accessibility compliance.

  5. Never forget alt text
  6. One of the basics of accessibility is adding alt text to images that ensures a screen reader can describe what is in the image. Usually in your CMS media library or Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution there will be a field for alt text, where you can add a simple description. However, with accessibility not always top of mind, this is a practice that sometimes gets forgotten.

    Make sure alt text is part of the routine of adding images to your media library or to a post. This usually needs to be emphasised to the team adding content, but there could also be a regular quarterly process to check all images have alt text in your media library, for example.

  7. Get accessibility awareness training
  8. One of the core reasons that accessibility is not taken seriously is a lack of awareness. Inevitably this means that website accessibility tends to be deprioritized and a website does not fully support accessibility.

    One way to make accessibility a higher priority is to organise some accessibility awareness training for your digital team. There are multiple options for this including online learning. This will not only provide a good basis for establishing processes and practices that establish and maintain accessibility, but also will help the team to take a more empathetic view of the experiences of people with disabilities that visit your website.

  9. Make PDFs accessible
  10. Website accessibility is not just about content pages, it also relates to your assets such as reports in PDF format that are experienced online. Always make sure your PDFs are more accessible when creating them, for example using software from Adobe.

  11. Add captioning and transcripts to videos
  12. Another important practice that supports accessibility is adding captioning to videos, as well as offering a transcript. The latter practice also applies to podcasts too. Many of the video streaming and hosting platforms offer this now as standard through automation, making it easier to support accessibility.

  13. Consider colour contrast
  14. Colour contrast is an accessibility and user experience issue. If there is not sufficient contrast between an image and its background, or with writing on an image, or within an image itself (particularly if it involves text) it can be difficult for those with visual impairments to view the image or the text. Text that is difficult to read on an image background also impacts every user.

    Colour contrast always needs to be considered in the selection of images on your website, and also in the colour palette that is used. Within your CMS if you have automated text to appear on top of an image, this is also an area where teams can trip up. Overall colour contrast can also be important in supporting neurodiversity.

  15. Manage your accessibility statement
  16. Your website should have an accessibility statement that covers your commitment to accessibility, the level of compliance it is trying to reach and some of the ways it specifically supports accessibility, such as using assistive technologies. The accessibility statement should also have a named contact for people to get in touch if they have any relevant queries.

    Most organisations write their accessibility statement as a legal notice so it is not particularly engaging, but it should also be considered as a page that is informative and will reflect your organisation’s commitment to accessibility as well as associated areas such as diversity and inclusion.

    Always make sure your accessibility statement remains up to date and has a named person responsible for making changes. Is not uncommon to find an accessibility statement that has not been changed since it was first created; for example, it might refer to a level of WCAG compliance that's been superseded.

  17. Speak to your agency about accessibility
  18. Your digital agency should have some experience around accessibility, or may potentially partner up with experts in the field. However, we encounter many teams who have never talked to their agency about accessibility, bar it being a requirement in the build for a new website. Actually, its worth having a conversation to ascertain:

    • What can be done to support ongoing accessibility
    • The tools that are used or could be used for testing
    • Having clarity on their responsibilities and your responsibilities regarding accessibility
    • Improvements that could be made to your CMS
    • And more!

    From this, ideas and decisions can flow that can help support ongoing accessibility for your website.

  19. Involve people living with disabilities
  20. All too often website accessibility ends up being a tick box exercise that is more to do with compliance than actually improving the user experience for people living with disabilities. One way to improve accessibility and make real world improvements is to involve people with disabilities to get their feedback and involvement in testing. If your organisation has a disability network or group then consider involving them with your accessibility efforts.

Committing to website accessibility

Having an accessible website is very important but requires ongoing effort and management. If you’d like to discuss improving and managing the accessibility of your website, then get in touch!

scroll back to the top of the current web page