Why The Accessibility Of Website Content Is So Important
Posted on 25th February 2021
Being able to access website content is becoming increasingly important, and never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the UK’s two lockdowns, people with disabilities or learning difficulties, those that live in rural locations, the older generation and those in developing countries had to rely heavily on the internet.
The web has established itself as the go-to source across a wide range of aspects, such as education, healthcare, government, communications and employment. Ensuring access to the information and communication solutions online, including websites, is defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) as a basic human right.
Businesses across the world are starting to understand that their websites and its content needs to be not only user-friendly, but also accessible. It has to consider a wide range of consumers and varying levels of capability, not only in respect of the consumer but also the technology being used to access the internet. For example, the older generation are not going to be as savvy with mobile devices or technology as the younger generation.
What is web accessibility?
First, let’s start with a definition. Web accessibility is the practice of ensuring your website, and its content, is comprehensive and intuitive enough to be used by people with disabilities, learning difficulties and older people. Having a disability, such as vision or hearing impairment, will make using a website harder.
The legal aspect of web accessibility
As well as people’s rights under the UN CRPD, the Equality Act 2010 in the UK places a duty on businesses and organisations to ensure that, within reason, their website and content is sufficient to enable people with disabilities to use it.
Indeed, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 are far more detailed, particularly when it comes to the public sector. Businesses and organisations, such as government bodies and local councils, must comply with level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), v2.1.
The WCAG was established by the World Wide Web Consortium and defines a series of requirements as follows:
Generally, disability laws across the world need to comply with the AA level; the AAA level’s requirements are far stricter.
Website accessibility checklist
There are a range of simple steps to evaluate a website’s accessibility level.
Page titles – make sure the page titles are visible in the title bar and that each title is individual to that page. This ensures people know where they are on the website and if they have multiple pages open, they can easily navigate around the pages in their search browser.
Text alternatives to images (‘alt text’) – not everyone can see the images on your website, i.e. people that are blind use screen readers to hear the alt text. Indeed, some people turn off the images in order to speed up their download or if they don’t have sufficient bandwidth. Ensure each image on the website has a text alternative, including any charts or graphs. The text needs to be specific to the image, functional and describes its use so that the user can understand the content.
Headings – most content on websites has headings in order to separate sections. However, when it comes to accessibility of a website, it’s important that all headings are ‘marked up’, i.e. each heading should have an HTML code. This helps people who use tools to navigate a website, such as a screen reader, to move around the site. So, every page should have a minimum of one heading, and any text that is a heading should be marked up including section headings. The hierarchy of the heading has to be meaningful, such as H1, H2, H3, etc. This also applies to any forms and labels on the website. They need to be marked up and be keyboard accessible.
Colour contrast – for people with visual impairments or the older generation, it is hard for them to read the content on a website if the contrast between the text colour and the background is not sufficiently different, i.e. grey text on a grey or light background. The same rule applies to using colours that are bright, which are difficult for people with dyslexia to read. The key here is to ensure that people can change the colour of the background or text to suit them, and that the website continues to work as effectively.
Text size – although this may be an obvious check, it’s not always considered when building a website. Most people with visual impairments or the older generation may find it hard to read content that is too small. The majority of internet browsers allow users to change the size of the text and any website needs to be designed with this in mind. When the text size is adjusted, it’s important that the website content continues to be readable, i.e. columns and sections do not overlap, the space between the lines remains the same, and text doesn’t disappear off the side of the screen.
Content that moves, blinks or flashes – including interactive content on a website, such as videos and scrolling content, can be a major problem for some people, such as those with an attention deficit disorder. It’s important a website’s user is able to adjust or control the movement of this type of content. Flashing or blinking content can cause a seizure for people that suffer from photosensitive epilepsy. Therefore, they need to be able to significantly reduce the rate at which content flashes, or ensure that it doesn’t cover too much of the screen area.
There is some content that is used on websites that is not covered by the regulations, such as PDFs and live videos. However, many website developers are starting to replace PDFs with HTML pages that are accessible.
The Government Digital Service details what an accessibility statement on a website, particularly for the public sector, should look like, and what it should contain. This provides a good template in developing website accessibility.
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