Is your website user friendly for people with disabilities? Even the dyslexic or colour blind?

Reviewing the accessibility of your website for people with disabilities can provide unexpected benefits. It often improves the readibility of your site for other visitors too, including search engines, and can make the site easier to visit on a phone or tablet. For the 20% of New Zealanders living with a disability it can make the difference between staying on your site and searching elsewhere.

One of the most important actions to take in making your website more accessible to people with disabilities is to keep language simple and uncomplicated – use of language is critical when appealing to those who are blind, deaf, colour blind and dyslexic.

Check to see that your site doesn’t have too many layers to click through. The ‘two clicks to anywhere’ philosophy is practical and common sense for most users anyway – the easier you make your site to use (for everybody) the more effective it will be.

While blind or almost blind users will probably have a screen reader (or magnifier), keep your website content semantically correct -- in other words, simple and uncomplicated to make it easier for the reader to interpret.

Avoid referring to content in visual language i.e. click the ‘red button’ – this is also important even for people who are colour blind. Ensure that non-text content like graphics have a text equivalent (have text versions of all text on your site).

Keeping your language simple is also helpful for people who have been deaf since birth because their reading skills sometimes are not as good as those who can hear (if you have audio content on the website, it is advisable to provide a text version too).

A second important action is to reduce the reliance of your website on devices like the keyboard and mouse.

This may sound impossible, but the idea is not to do without a keyboard or mouse so much as it is to reduce reliance on these tools.

For example, making clickable buttons larger helps people with motor skill impairments, missing limbs or reduced mobility to easily target or focus the mouse pointer on the button in order to ‘click through’ more easily.

For the same reason, it is also advisable to reduce your site’s dependence on drop down menus or to limit your site to one large drop down menu.

Graphic design is an important consideration when preparing a site to be more accessible to the disabled.

For example, you don’t want fonts that are too small or contrast too low. The design should be simple enough to hold its shape when the text is enlarged (as opposed to zoomed).

Other Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative include:

  • Captions or audio description are provided for audio content
  • Use good contrasting colours for backgrounds and text (minimum 4.5:1, enhanced 7:1)
  • Use relative sizing instead of fixed so text is resizable up to 200%
  • Text is not justified
  • Ensure functionality is available through the keyboard as well as the mouse
  • Ensure plug-ins do not "trap" the keyboard
  • Pages do not time out, refresh, move, blink, scroll, or auto-update without the presence of a mechanism for the user to control or disable them
  • Ensure animation can be paused or switched off
  • Minimize the occurrence of content that requires timed interaction
  • Provide skip links (e.g. Skip to content, Back to top)
  • Web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose
  • Provide clear navigation mechanisms
  • Link text makes sense when read out of context
  • Provide a site map, table of contents or search facility
  • For page organisation, use headings, lists and consistent structure
  • The language attribute for each page is set
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