Have you ever stopped to think that your website visitors will have a diverse range of needs? Is it possible that you’re not catering for some individuals and these users are leaving your page before they engage with your brand?
There are currently over 11 million people living in the UK with a long-term illness or disability. This means it’s entirely likely that many of your users have an additional need relating to their condition. Some users will have visual impairments including blindness, low vision or colour blindness. Others will have difficulty using their hands due to conditions like Parkinson’s Disease. Some will have deafness or hearing impairments and other individuals may have a learning difficulty or other cognitive disabilities that effect their logic skills or attention.
On the surface this looks like a large amount of amendments to make if you are trying to meet every need. Fortunately, considerations for accessibility and usability are very similar and therefore an accessible website, designed with a diverse range of needs in mind, will benefit all of your users. Moreover, all of the below points can be accommodated without decreasing the usability of your website for non-disabled users. A better design means all round happier customers and more sales!
Here is a list of 10 ways that you can make your website design more accessible:
1. Link identification and buttons
We’ve come a long way since website links were all blue and underlined, but with all the new link conventions we’ve lost some accessibility. Links are essential in leading your customers through your website and providing a good user experience, but if a user is colour blind and all you have done to highlight links is change the colour, they will miss them.
It is good practice to identify links (including those in your navigation) in 2 or more ways. This serves to provide a visitor a physical awareness of where they are and where they can go. For instance, make links bold and underlined or underlined and in a different colour to ensure that all of your users can clearly see links and navigate effectively.
The same goes for buttons. Ensure that your buttons are large, easily noticeable and look clickable. Too subtle and users will miss them, rendering them completely useless! Large buttons also aid individuals with mobility difficulties and those that have limited use of their hands so making them bigger benefits everyone.
2. Use of space
We love space as designers – it divides information so that it can be digested by visitors and is pleasing to the eye.
Don’t be worried about creating lots more of it to ensure that your message stays strong when viewed by users that have difficulty with attention. Space in your website reduces distraction for all users and makes for a less cluttered, confusing experience. Within your sections you should also break up your copy into readable bite-sized chunks.
3. Drop down menus
Drop down menus are useful as they categorise your website and are only visible when relevant. However, they can be extremely tricky to use if they disappear before a user can click on the sub-menu link. Individuals with mobility difficulties may not be able to navigate to your links before they disappear and we bet they’ll only try a few times before leaving your website forever.
If possible, you’ll want your submenus to appear for longer, or permanently on click of the parent menu item. This allows users that will take longer using their mouse to get to where they want to go. If you have a small number of menu items, you might want to consider removing your drop down menus entirely.
Icons are pretty but they also serve a greater purpose when integrated into your buttons, menus and broader website. Most of your users will scan your site and miss vast amounts of information as they search for what they’re looking for.
Icons can be used as anchor points that grab a user’s attention far better than text ever could, without slowing down your website like images can. You can integrate the most popular, Font Awesome, or download your own using Flaticon. You’ll be amazed at what icons can do for your website design and accessibility.
5. Alt tags
Whenever you add a new image to your website you need to get into the habit of ensuring that the caption and alt tags accurately portray what can be seen. This is the information that is read by text-to-speech software or text-to-braille hardware, allowing blind or visually impaired users to understand your website.
This is also good practice for search engine optimisation, where all of your alt tags should relate to the webpage and keywords that you are attempting to rank for.
6. Enlargeable images
The design of your website might not afford you the space to have your images big enough for visually impaired individuals to view them. Fortunately, the perfect solution to this is to integrate a lightbox to each one so that users can enlarge them if needed.
You can accomplish this really easily by using something like the Simple Lightbox plugin!
7. Plain English
You might find it hard to believe but the average reading age of the general public in the UK is 9 years old. To put this into context the Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8. This means it is imperative that your written content caters to this need – you should avoid any jargon, use short sentences and create scan-able text to ensure your users can understand your copy. This in turn will make your pages more accessible to individuals with dyslexia or a learning difficulty too.
You can create scan-able text by:
• Using bold to take the reader to key words.
• Using meaningful subheadings (explain what’s in it for them).
• Using bullet points to summarise content.
• Including one idea per paragraph.
Does your web content include a lot of video to convey your message? Think about adding subtitles to these to ensure that they can be understood by individuals that are hard of hearing. This in general is good practice for all video content intended to be consumed by everyone. For instance, a large percentage of Facebook users never watch videos with audio, meaning your message is automatically lost to this section of your visitors.
YouTube and various other platforms offer fantastic functionality that to some degree will automate the process of adding subtitles so there’s really no excuse!
9. Obvious accessibility button
Now that you’ve adjusted your design and content, you need to make sure that your users know about your stance towards accessibility and how they can interact with your website.
Make sure that you have an obvious, clickable accessibility button above the fold (the section of your website that is viewable when it loads) as it’d be a shame for individuals with additional needs not be aware of the options that are open to them.
10. Use a plugin for additional features
There are a number of plugins that offer additional accessibility options out of the box. These are features that users can activate above and beyond what you’ll be able to accomplish by redesigning your layout and content.
By installing an accessibility plugin you’ll be able to offer your visitors things like an option to change font size (useful if a user is not aware of their browser’s built in zoom function), colour overlays to allow individuals with dyslexia comprehend your written content more easily and high contrast filters.
Check out some of these accessibility plugins by viewing this blog post.
By designing your website so that it is as accessible as possible for the widest audience you’ll be improving the user experience for everybody. If you need a hand doing this, we can offer a free website accessibility audit to aid the process, and even incorporate accessibility as a main aim in your next website redesign project.
If you can think of any other points to add to this list, or have any questions, you should get in touch with us.
Liam is a website designer and digital marketer based in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He spent many years working within the charity sector before moving into the marketing space a number of years ago. Liam always strives to do something slightly different with every project and always designs to deliver results, not just pretty websites.