Getting Started With Web Accessibility for Long-Term Success

March 1, 2022
Genevieve Nelson

Web accessibility is not a one-and-done effort. From legal implications to web content, design, and development practices, it can be difficult to know where to start. Plus, what's the best way to sustain it over time?

UX & Design

Web accessibility is not a one-and-done effort. From legal implications to web content, design, and development practices, it can be difficult to know where to start. Plus, what's the best way to sustain it over time?

In this post, we’ll look at an overview of web accessibility, some simple CMS changes to get started today, and several ways to sustain inclusive web experiences for long-term success.

Understanding web accessibility

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility is the practice of designing and developing websites, tools, and technologies so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites.

Why is it important?

As web-based experiences become more prevalent in daily life, it's vital to provide inclusive services and experiences for the 1 in 4 adults living with temporary, age-related, or lifelong visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive disabilities.

Not only does accessibility benefit better usability for all users, but it also encourages good coding practices, it can help SEO and boost search rankings, mitigate costly remediation efforts, and provides equal access and independence to people with disabilities. While businesses can benefit from accessibility, it’s also the law. Your organization could face legal action if you fail to make your website accessible. 

Who needs to care about web accessibility?

Anyone who contributes to your website is responsible for accessibility. The topic of accessibility encompasses content development, design, and implementation, and therefore involves all members of a web team. That's why it's important every team member understands their role in ensuring accessibility and comprehends the importance of developing accessible digital content.

[Pssst! These web accessibility checklists on the latest WCAG 2.2 standards are a great reference for graphic designers, software developers, and content creators as they assess digital assets for accessibility🙌]

So, what can I easily implement right now?

There are several easy ways to get started that don't require help from web developers or an external agency. Most can be simply affected within your content management system (CMS). Not only will these small changes improve your website experience for users with disabilities, but they will also improve your search performance and the overall health of your website.

Some quick wins for getting started with web accessibility:

Image alt text

Add descriptive alternative (alt) text to images to help users with disabilities better understand what’s in the image on the page. This text is what will be displayed when users cannot load the content or rely on screen-readers to interpret an image.

Content structure

Use meaningful heading tags (H1, H2, etc) and subheadings to clarify the order of content to users. This helps assistive technologies, such as screen readers and keyboards, determine content hierarchy and logical flow.

Descriptive links

Links and buttons don’t always explain enough to users what will happen or where they will be directed if they click a link. Add descriptive metadata to links and buttons to tell the user where it will take them before clicking.

Color contrast

Check for vision issues with a contrast ratio tool suck as Lea Verou’s Contrast Ratio Checker. This can help determine whether a combination of colors pass WCAG 2.1 standards for contrast color and accepts any CSS color the browser accepts. 

Form inputs

Provide additional information such as semantics or metadata to help users understand what each section of a form is asking of them. For example, identify when a field is asking for a name or an address.

Non-duplicate title tags

Assign a unique title to each page so that users know what page they are on for a given site. Bonus: non-duplicate titles improve SEO, too!

Remove tables or properly tag header rows

Contrary to belief, it is OK to use tables. Mark up rows and cells by using tags so that keyboard shortcuts will work correctly for screen readers. Depending on your CMS, this may affect designers and developers.

Simplify copy

Making website copy simple and easy to understand helps users with cognitive disabilities more easily comprehend page content. Search engines also favor websites that are keyword relevant and easy for users to comprehend.

Set yourself up for long-term success

Making quick changes within your CMS can help your team get used to continuously caring for accessibility in your web publishing processes, which is a necessary step for improving and maintaining accessibility over time. But because web accessibility is not a one-time or one-off effort - there are proactive several steps you can take to ensure accessibility is cared for over time.

Complete an accessibility audit

While quick fixes of issues, like the ones above, is a good place to start, you'll want to run an accessibility audit of your website to better understand all the issues you may need to address. There are a number of affordable and free accessibility tools available in the marketplace today. These can cover a selection of pages or entire sites, and provide helpful reports and recommendations. It’s important to note that passing an accessibility scanner alone does not ensure compliance. Some level of human interaction will always be needed for issues related to logical flow or meaning of content, tab order, input focus, keyboard accessibility, and text alternatives.

Learn WCAG standards

Having command over ADA and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards and an understanding of assistive technologies will help teams better anticipate the needs of users with various temporary, age-related, or long-term disabilities. These clear technical specifications can help content editors, UX designers, and web developers directly benefit users who have accessibility needs. WCAG standards represent a higher level of accessibility than ADA and Section 508, providing three tiers of compliance that are recognized as the go-to source for implementing digital accessibility.

Conduct web accessibility training for digital teams

For teams that regularly produce and publish new content, web accessibility will need to be baked into their planning, creation, and review processes. Digital accessibility training and professional development opportunities can be a low-effort, low-investment activity that has a high impact on sustaining web accessibility among your team. Remember to appoint a dedicated team member (or several) to own these practices and monitor compliance over time.

Engage an expert for support

You may not have the time, expertise, or tools to regularly monitor and improve web accessibility. Looking for outside help is a great way to get accessibility cared for. Many digital agencies, including C2, offer extended website support packages that can provide regular audits and remediation services for accessibility issues. Taking incremental and proactive steps to improve accessibility can save you from expensive retrofits and exhaustive lists of accessibility fixes hinder you from getting other work cared for.

Remember, web accessibility is a continuous pursuit that will take time, commitment, and expertise. Whether looking to your internal team or outside partners for help, don’t wait for a complaint or a piece of legislation to get the ball rolling. By taking incremental steps now, teams can avoid significant headaches and disruptions later.

It’s also just the right thing to do.