By Joe Chidzik, senior accessibility consultant at AbilityNet
Accessibility can be a daunting topic if you’re just finding out about it. But there’s a lot you can do that is pretty simple. These five tips will make your site slicker and better to use for a wider audience and will help you meet your obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
1. Hide your mouse to check keyboard accessibility
Making your site accessible without using a mouse is a legal requirement, and something that will benefit many of your visitors. People with little vision rely on keyboard access as they cannot easily see the mouse cursor on the screen. Sighted users with motor difficulties such Parkinson’s or a stroke can find keyboard access simpler as well.
Just by hiding your mouse and trying to access your site and all its options with only a keyboard can show how you're doing and how to improve this. In particular, make sure that a visible focus indicator is always present (preferably a highly visible one), ie, so it is very obvious where your mouse or cursor is at any given time. Also make sure that there is a logical focus order around the page, ie that the page is set up in a way that doesn't mean screenreaders or other technology jump all over the page and don't make sense to all users.
2. Avoid poor contrast
Everyone finds low contrast text difficult to read, particularly people with low vision. Use a contrast checking tool such as Tanaguru's Contrast Finder, this allows you to enter two different colours and check the contrast between them. It can also suggest alternatives if the colours have insufficient contrast. Alternatively, a colour picker tool like the Contrast Analyser from the Paciello Group will help.
Hint: Trust your eyes too - it can be simple to spot offending text colours by eye, and then just verify them with the tool. This is best used early in the design process, so that issues can be addressed before the site goes live.
3. Do a free accessibility check
The organisation WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides a free, automated, online checker here. This can give you quick feedback on some more technical issues on your website eg, if forms are correctly marked up with labels. This is great way to highlight issues during the development process. Be aware that any automated testing can only cover a small subset of all possible accessibility issues. However it is a valuable technique when used alongside manual testing.
4. Provide an accessibility page
An accessibility page is often an opportunity for organisations to state what measures they have taken to make their site accessible. You can also use this page to let people get in touch with any difficulties they experience while using your site. See AbilityNet's accessibility page for an example.
Getting feedback from people visiting your site is very valuable. By making it easier for users to feedback to you directly, you will benefit greatly by both demonstrating your commitment to improving your site, and being able to respond to individual issues as they arise.
5. Content is king: know your audience
People come to websites to find information, or to carry out an action. It makes sense to make this process as easy as possible for people. Know your expected audience, and write copy accordingly. Using financial jargon may be fine for visitors with a financial background, but other users may miss out. Good practise is to avoid jargon, or if it is necessary, provide a glossary.
Make use of headings, paragraphs and bulleted lists to break text up into meaningful sections. Make one key point per paragraph. Use different methods to convey information. Some users will prefer to read content, others will benefit from a video, others prefer a simplified, or illustrated guide.