One of the most common myths of web design is that accessible websites are ugly, plain, or restricted in functionality.
Fortunately, that’s not the case: Accessible web design is simply good web design. Many of the internet’s most popular pages follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standard for digital accessibility, and they’re just as visually elegant as non-accessible websites.
More importantly, these sites provide an excellent experience to a wide array of users, regardless of whether those users have disabilities. Below, we’ll take a look at four examples of popular, accessible websites — and explain what those websites are doing correctly.
The BBC is a leader in digital accessibility and publishes a number of guides and resources to help other organizations follow its lead. Unsurprisingly, the BBC website is robust — and beautiful.
BBC provides an enormous library of video, audio, and image-based content with appropriate text alternatives. Users can easily navigate the site with a screen reader or other assistive technology (AT), and while some pages have fairly complex content, it’s presented in a way that isn’t overwhelming or unpredictable.
On its first day, the Biden administration introduced a number of accessibility improvements to Whitehouse.gov, including a new high-contrast mode, font size options, and a detailed accessibility statement.
"Our ongoing accessibility effort works towards conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1, level AA criteria," the statement notes. "These guidelines not only help make web content accessible to users with sensory, cognitive and mobility disabilities, but ultimately to all users, regardless of ability."
To implement the changes, the administration worked with creative agency Wide Eye, which prioritized accessibility throughout development. Building with an accessible mindset can reduce long-term development costs — and greatly reduce the need for ongoing remediation.
Unlike the other sites on this list, Apple doesn’t directly reference WCAG on its accessibility support page. However, their product pages are excellent examples of how eye-catching content can be accessible:
As the user scrolls through content, images may move and videos play automatically — but sound is disabled by default, and users have the ability to pause, stop, or hide the content.
The website is keyboard accessible and has visibly distinct focus indicators.
Images are properly tagged with alternative text.
Apple’s black-and-white color scheme meets WCAG’s requirements for color contrast.
In recent years, Apple has positioned itself as an accessibility leader, introducing innovative new features on its iOS and MacOS operating systems. For Apple, the benefits of digital accessibility are obvious — particularly for a consumer-oriented brand that promotes its products as easy to use.
In 2019, Wikipedia began rolling out updates to its desktop interface. The changes included color contrast improvements, larger fonts, better keyboard accessibility, and enhanced WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications) support.
“Our approach here was to strive for an even higher level of planning than in 2010 when building out accessibility features,” Olga Vasileva, lead product manager at the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote in a blog announcing the design refresh. “In the past, a lot of our changes specifically targeting accessibility were retrofitted solutions, this time we integrated them into the planning of each feature.”
“This ensured that accessibility standards were followed and that fewer surprises were found once we began testing.”
While Wikipedia’s improvements are laudable, the site isn’t perfect. The Wikimedia Foundation’s accessibility statement clearly defines the organization’s goal, which is WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance — but also recognizes that some content may not meet those requirements yet.
That’s a great lesson for content creators: Full conformance isn’t always immediately achievable, but a clear accessibility statement communicates to your audience that you’re working towards a concrete goal.
Build a better website by following WCAG
If you’re feeling inspired, our subject matter experts can help you understand your website’s current level of accessibility and develop a long-term plan for digital compliance.
To get started, send us a message or learn more about the principles of accessible design with our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.