Ensuring inclusivity: the importance of website accessibility

Accessibility in design terms refers to the practice of creating products, services, environments, and digital content in a way that ensures people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the content effectively. This includes visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, neurological disabilities and temporary disabilities. These temporary impairments might include short term illnesses, or even a broken arm!

People might rely on assistive technologies, like a screen reader, to access information on a website, or social media. This can include filling out a form, accessing a PDF, reading text or consuming multimedia content.

In short, accessibility means designing a website so that disabled people can access the same information and do the same things that a non-disabled person can.

Accessibility is often overlooked by many businesses, however, it’s a fundamental aspect of inclusivity. 1 in 5 people have a disability or illness of some kind. There are an estimated 14.1 million disabled people living in the UK today and this sector is reported to be worth £275 billion a year to UK businesses! So it’s not just a ‘nice to have’ it’s a business decision.

A survey in 2019 showed that UK businesses lost more than £17 billion in sales because of disabled shoppers abandoning websites. They’re typically more brand loyal, shop more frequently and spend more than the average consumer.

Of course, the business case for this is much wider – it demonstrates your business’s commitment to inclusion and enhances your reputation. Helping you to stand out from your competitors.

There are laws in place surrounding accessibility – the Equality Act of 2010 and the Public Sector Bodies Act of 2018 which states that their website must align with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standards. However, in reality very few businesses have been investigated – at least thus far. But the landscape is changing and we should all be doing our best to meet these guidelines!

The WCAG guidelines cover some of the following issues:

Contrast: Text and images of text have sufficient colour contrast ratios. This is a screenshot of a tool I use to check colour contrasts for my clients. It shows which colour combinations do and don’t pass the recommended WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines.

Colour: dont rely on colour alone – also include a text alternative

Alternative text (Alt text) – images and other non-text content should have alt text added so they can be read by a screen reader. Also helps search engines understand your content better

Keyboard navigation: Make sure all website functions can be accessed and operated using a keyboard alone, this caters for users who cannot use a mouse.

Descriptive links: avoid using ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ they make no sense to screen readers. Should make sense when read in isolation.

Instructions: Instructions to complete a task shouldn’t rely on sound, shape, size or visual location.

Videos and audio: Captions should be included for audio and video content and transcripts for podcasts and webinars to accommodate users with hearing impairments.

Readability: use accessible fonts and use logical headings that enable skimming. Write at a level that matches your target audience.

Text: left aligned text is more accessible than centred or right aligned.

These are just a few examples of the standards surrounding accessibility in design and remember that accessibility is a process not a project. You should be looking at the importance of accessibility and design accessible content from the ground up rather than adding it afterwards.

Accessibility in print

Many of the factor above apply to printed material too, although the way the colours are put together are different in print and generally printed material isn’t backlit so we view colours slightly differently. Paper choice and paper thickness are important. Uncoated paper stock reduces glare and results in easier reading, and never assume that a reader will be using a thumb or forefinger to turn the page. Slightly thicker paper allows more pressure to be applied to the page when its being turned.

There are also various things to look out for such as:

  • Try to use unambiguous letter shapes
  • Use fonts with non-mirroring letters
  • Ensure there’s enough space between letters
  • Use fonts with clear ascenders and descenders

Accessibility in social media:

All of the above points relating to web design also apply to social media, but one of the most important things you can do is to add alt text to your images. Facebook automatically adds alt text, but you can edit this yourself to make sure the description is accurate. You can also edit alt text on LinkedIn, but only by logging into your account on a desktop, its not available on a mobile device.

In conclusion:

Inclusivity is not just a buzzword; it’s a core value that should be reflected in every aspect of our digital design world. It creates equal access to information, enhances user experience and helps us meet legal and ethical obligations. And don’t forget its a huge business benefit and helps you stand out from your competitors!