In the UK alone, some 11 million people suffer from a disability. This can cause difficulty in doing the trivial tasks most of us don’t think twice about, like surfing the web.
Of course, not all disabilities make it difficult for people to use the web, but when designing a website, businesses must consider how inclusive it is to all potential users for it to truly be successful. This includes the design, on-page content and functionality.
So, to deliver a corporate website that’s accessible to all, here are some top tips:
Why is website accessibility important?
It is a common misconception that accessibility concerns only those with limited vision, but there are a broad range of disabilities and situations that can make it challenging for people to use websites, among other technologies and services.
Although the laws on web accessibility have recently been amended, many websites are still difficult for disabled people to navigate. For instance, a recent study found 9 in 10 UK council homepages failed the basic tests for inclusive design.
The web has become essential in modern life – anyone wanting to fully participate in society needs to be able to get online. So, it is vital websites are designed and developed in a way that allows everyone to benefit.
From a business perspective, it’s also beneficial to make your website available to as many people as possible. Not only can you communicate and potentially do business with a wider range of customers, following accessibility standards will also lead you to the best practices associated with web design, usability and simplicity, and SEO. A win win!
The business benefits of inclusive web design
From a business perspective, when it comes to inclusive web design, there are three stand-out benefits.
Firstly, you can create more opportunities for your business. By designing a widely accessible interface, companies have the potential of reaching a whole new section of customers, who may well have been totally overlooked by your competitors, giving you an edge. You’ll reach a broader market, but more importantly, your customers will feel valued and considered.
By making your website accessible, you’re also minimising the chances of facing legal action. Ultimately, business exclusion can be poorly received and end up costly.
Finally, it’s great for brand reputation. Ensuring that a site is truly accessible to all reflects well on the company among consumers and competitors alike.
The difference between accessibility and usability
Simply put, usability is making sure things are generally ‘user-friendly’, whereas accessibility is making sure the product in question is available and usable by all.
When looking through a usability lens, it can be easy for designers to dismiss accessibility. For example, if you have a well-produced corporate video on your website as a sales tool, but no accompanying subtitles or text information, you’ll instantly alienate customers who have a hearing or visual impairment.
This common oversight also misses the key consideration: accessibility benefits everyone using your website.
When a website is stripped down for simplicity, you create a page that is easy for everyone to use and that will load quickly even on slower computers. You cannot call a site usable if it is not accessible.
Remember that usability and accessibility are similar but different. A site that scores highly for usability is probably fairly accessible, but a site that is accessible can be difficult to use if the ‘accessibility’ is from a technical standpoint only, so the two should ideally go hand in hand.
How to make your business website more inclusive
There are a number of crucial elements to guaranteeing a website’s inclusiveness: from headings to language to keyboard navigation and so many more.
For the visually impaired, considered headings, images, and tables are non-negotiable. Without the option of ‘alt tags’, a blind person will not be able to use your website.
Remember to use helpful descriptions – just saying “Screen Reader” as the ‘alt text’ will not be much help. Try something more specific, like “How a screen reader helps people with visual impairment problems”.
For those with hearing difficulty, closed captions/subtitles are a must for any video demonstrations and advertisement. Even for those unconcerned about accessibility, you should use subtitles for videos as these will help users when they are in a location where they have to keep the sound off or low.
The best way to check if your site is accessible is to use some of the many tools freely available on the web today. But, be aware that although these ‘automatic’ testing tool are useful, a level of manual checking and testing should always be done.
Some of our favourites include:
Accessibility Insights for Web – This does full site checks and provides you with a human assessment to follow in order to manually test/review things that cannot be automated.
Web.dev – This is an update to the old Google page speed insights. It uses Lighthouse which is in the Audit tab in Chrome developer tools.