Technology

5 Things Your Organization Should Do to Improve Website Accessibility

By / Nov 30, 2018 (alexsl/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

With increased attention being given to situations where website design renders content inaccessible for people with disabilities, now’s a good time to keep in mind strategies to ensure users aren’t getting forgotten by your developers.

Recently, the content management platform WordPress drew scrutiny for an overhaul that presented major accessibility challenges.

These problems happened even though WordPress has a sizable team dedicated to accessibility and a heavy focus on the issue that many organizations do not.

It’s working on a fix, but other groups still struggle with the problem, including major universities, which are facing increased scrutiny for pages that don’t account for situations like screen readers, the need for visual contrast, and audio and video that render information inaccessible.

Accessibility isn’t just a moral imperative, of course; it can also be a legal one. Last year, Florida grocery chain Winn-Dixie lost a court case after a blind user was unable to access its website, with the user’s lawyers successfully arguing that this violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And such issues are increasing. The Guardian recently noted that more than 5,000 lawsuits were filed regarding ADA violations on websites in the first six months of 2018.

With that in mind, associations might benefit from a refresher on accessibility ideals to keep in mind when developing websites. There are many, of course, but here are a few key ones:

1. Know your web standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published standards for web design since 2008 and includes recommendations on accessibility. Its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines  offer useful advice for developers to improve the experience of text and visual content for end users. If using a website framework or content management system, consider WCAG compliance as a part of the process.

2. Don’t forget your alt tags. Web content is often very image-heavy, but it’s still imperative to offer a text-based description on those images for visually impaired users. When implementing image tags, make sure your descriptions are useful and add something for the reader. (WebAIM, a service offered by Utah State University, has a useful guide that covers these elements.) And that goes for social media as well. The issue has grown in prominence over the years, even leading Twitter and, most recently, Instagram to start supporting text-based descriptions on images uploaded to their services. (Instagram’s treatment even uses machine learning to figure out what’s in the image!)

3. Ensure the basic text is still readable in multimedia treatments. Interactive graphics are great, but not everyone can see them. Which means the text still has to do the heavy lifting—both in terms of accessibility and what you develop. “If non-text content is primarily intended to create a specific sensory experience, then text alternatives at least provide descriptive identification of the non-text content,” W3C states in its guidelines. And when developing your multimedia treatment, consider the role color plays in reaching the reader. Text that blends into the background, for example, is bad news.

4. Caption your videos, and offer transcripts. Video and audio treatments naturally come with accessibility-compliance hurdles. Transcription can help deal with these issues: Some services, including YouTube, do automatic transcription of videos, and it’s also possible to pay for audio transcription that’s either automated or done by hand. (Word of warning: You’ll probably get better results without automation.) If it’s a live event for which captioning might not be possible, offer a text alternative with equivalent information.

5. Don’t get ambiguous. If your web interface doesn’t follow closely accepted standards for web design, screen readers can have trouble making sense of what’s on the page. For example, visual treatments that organize the content differently from how it’ll be displayed on a page can hurt the clarity of what’s on the site. To put this another way: If you intend to use a header tag, use a header tag. If you’re making a list, use a list tag. And so on. And make sure it’s ordered logically. A good way to test this is to load a version of your page without any visual styles added. Does it still make sense? If so, you’ve already won half the battle.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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