4 Often-Overlooked Accessibility Mistakes (And What To Do Instead)

March 3, 2020

Digital accessibility isn't always about major overhauls or site redesigns. Sometimes, looking out for the little things can go a long way toward improving accessibility and avoiding common web accessibility myths. Here are four oversights that don't take much to correct and what to do instead.

1. Being less thoughtful with alt text than visible content

Since many people won’t experience alt text except those using screen or Braille readers, alt text is often sloppier than visible content.

It’s common to see spelling errors, grammar mistakes, mismatched copy, and outdated copy that should have been updated. In general, there is so commonly less care that goes into writing the details for alt text for important images, infographics, and other materials.

This sends a message to customers getting the information with assistive technology that their experience isn’t as important, that they don’t need the same level of editorial care or the same brand experience as everyone else. This also introduces the risk that some people are getting content that isn't as it's intended.

Instead, take care to check all the information in the alt text description to ensure your customers can visualize what is shown, displays the same information that all other customers will read, and is fresh and current. Check alt text and update regularly or as appropriate, just as you would with all other content.

Further reading: Alternative Text: What and Why

2. Thinking headings just need to look like headings

Headings are pretty easy right? Just make the font bigger or bolder and you’re done. It’s more complicated than that when it comes to accessibility.

Well, they need to be coded as headings in an appropriate sequence. If not coded properly, not everyone will get the intended structure, and not everyone will be able to navigate and understand your content as easily.

Instead, make sure to use proper heading elements. If you're using a content management system, it may be as simple as selecting from a preset style. You can usually adjust how headings of different levels will look, so remember to treat headings first as navigational elements and then as visual elements.

Further reading: How Headings Help People with Disabilities Navigate a Website

3. Thinking lists just need to look like lists

How many of us just type in a dash or an asterisk when making a bulleted list? How many of us hit the tab key to indent the text when listing, as well?

Just like with headings, just making content look a certain way (like a list) won't help people who use assistive technology read, search, and navigate.

Lists are structural elements and only by coding them properly, like as an unordered list or a numbered list, is that structure available to everyone.

Further reading: Web Design and Accessibility: Basics Every New Designer Should Know

4. Ignoring the mobile experience

Ignoring the mobile version of a website can happen with the experience of all visitors, but it's more common that accessibility specifically isn't prioritized on mobile.

In general, the same accessibility principles of your desktop website should be applied to your mobile site, as should some mobile-specific considerations.

Further reading:

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