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When it comes to practicing web accessibility, one of the best ways to ensure your website is accessible for the foreseeable future is to implement accessible practices at the very start of your website design and development process.
It’s something we preach to anyone that is looking to build their own website on common site builders like Squarespace and Wix (both of which have templates specifically designed for web accessibility) or custom builds, and it’s something we do any and every time we start development on a project.
But before we can get to any sort of development, we need to focus on the design of a website, and that’s where a lot of websites can go wrong. Especially if web accessibility isn’t front and center.
The truth is that accessible design is a key part of your website’s overall foundation. Whether someone uses a screen reader or can use the internet without assistance, everyone can and does benefit when accessible design is at the forefront of web building.
But who is “everyone?” And how exactly do people, both with and without disabilities, benefit from accessible websites?
The prime beneficiaries
Whenever accessible design and development is discussed, one of the clear beneficiaries of those discussions and implementations is people with disabilities.
Although this shouldn’t come as a surprise, it’s still something to acknowledge because of how important web-accessible implementations are to people with disabilities. Without these implementations, it can be incredibly difficult and sometimes impossible for this community to properly explore a website or the internet as a whole.
Something as simple as alt-text can be an incredible difference-maker for people, and it’s important to remember that those small methods can still create a significant impact.
But how exactly do people with disabilities benefit from accessible design?
That all depends on who you’re asking and the type of disability they may have.
For people who are color blind, it can be as simple as altering CTA (call-to-action) text.
For example, instead of having CTA text that reads “reach out to our team by clicking the red button,” it could be “reach out to our team by clicking the “Contact Us” button below.” Additionally, you could also make any hyperlinked text more specific so it’s easier to identify, instead of relying on the blue underline that’s typically shown.
Since we rely on primary cues other than color, and since color is seen differently by so many individuals, it’s important to not rely solely on it when using color as a descriptor.
With that said, making accessible websites isn’t always as easy as a simple text or color edit.
Sometimes clients will share that their users may have difficulties with their motor skills, and it's these moments where accessible tactics can really shine.
Designers, like our very own Bud Northern, may keep in mind the user journey and experience of these users and shape the design of a webpage to be both easy and beautiful.
A clear example of that could be the use of carousels…or the lack thereof.
Carousels, while fun to look at, are extremely difficult to use for people who rely on screen readers and keyboard navigation. Unfortunately, the inconvenience of carousels is only furthered, as many websites will actually hold critical information about themselves on this frustrating feature.
Accessible websites will not only avoid these types of features that create barriers, but they’ll also think about the flow and look of the page based on the specific user.
For example, a person who relies on keyboard navigation to go through a website may find it difficult to navigate if there are so many clickable prompts. An accessible design keeps this in mind and provides opportunities for people who rely on keyboard navigation to move through the site and find what they need quicker.
Accessible design does go beyond the design itself, especially when it comes to information architecture and “wiremaps,” so it’s important to note that design itself doesn’t solely contribute to an accessible website experience.
With that said, a website grounded in inclusive design can and has significantly improved the lives and online experiences of people with disabilities, regardless of ability.
Setting accessible principles as the foundation of your website is one of the best ways to ensure your website is providing the best experience possible, even as it goes through different changes and iterations.
An unintended (but welcomed) benefit
Although many people are quick to point to people with disabilities as the prime beneficiary of accessible design and accessible practices as a whole, you’d be surprised to learn just how many able-bodied people benefit from accessible design as well.
It’s well documented that accessible practices like subtitles and closed captions have been used by able-bodied people for years, and that same thing can be applied to accessible design and the way people use the internet!
For example, let's return to carousels. Remember how we discussed how frustrating it can be for people who rely on keyboard navigation to use carousels?
The same thing can be said for able-bodied individuals.
One of the most common frustrations users express on websites is the “auto-rotating” carousel that offers them no ability to actually pause this feature. And since some websites store important information on these carousels, it forces users to sit through the rotations and create an already frustrating experience even more so.
(Carousels are frustrating for people to use, regardless of ability.)
A website rooted in accessible design not only avoids these features, but they look for clever ways to showcase the information differently and accessibly.
How exactly would we redesign information that would be typically showcased in a carousel?
There are a few ways to go about this, and it all depends on the importance of the information, the number of items it has, and how important it is to the homepage (among many other factors).
One method we typically use is utilizing two columns on the website to house short paragraphs of information.
For example, on our website we have a section entitled “Our websites are built for good” and we have six sections explaining why. Since each example isn’t very long, we decided to rely on spreading out the sections in threes for each column.
Not only is this format easy to read, but it’s also incredibly easy to set up and redesign if and when we do decide that we want to change that portion of our website.
Now there are tons of different ways to go about this, but what we wanted to show is just how beautiful a site can be without commonly requested functionality pieces like carousels.
And when accessible design is used as the foundation for the site, it provides you with a stronger framework for what you can and cannot do as you look to make changes to the site.
When a website is rooted in accessibility, its entire audience benefits from it, regardless of ability.
Not only are you creating an incredible experience for the people who frequent your website, but that can also lead to other unintended benefits (i.e. word-of-mouth marketing).
And if you’re looking to ensure your website is rooted in accessible practices, Unity Web Agency would love to help you!
Our team specializes in accessible design and development that ensures your audience gets the best and most inclusive experience possible.
And since our builds are designed to make editing your website easier, all while maintaining accessible standards, you’ll be able to really own the growth of your website over time.
We empower you to make the changes you see fit, saving you time and money for the other important initiatives you might be working on!