If your website ignores accessibility, people will notice. Worldwide, about 15% of adults live with at least one disability, and common accessibility mistakes — such as missing alternative text or redundant hyperlinks — can affect these users' experiences.
The goal of digital accessibility is to improve the internet for as many people as possible, including individuals with conditions that affect their vision, hearing, mobility, and cognition. Meeting that goal requires work, which should begin when you’re in the early planning stages of your project.
To that end, it’s useful to consider what individuals with disabilities experience when visiting a new website — the features that tell them whether or not your website is accessible.
1. An Accessibility Statement
Your website’s accessibility statement outlines the steps you’ve taken to accommodate your users. Ideally, it’s written with plain language that clearly explains what your website offers (and what barriers users might encounter).
Unsurprisingly, many people with disabilities search for accessibility statements when using a new website. It’s a good idea to publish an accessibility statement as soon as possible — even if you haven’t met your goals yet.
When a website doesn’t discuss accessibility, it sends an unpleasant message to users: We’re not focused on the experiences of users with disabilities.
Related: Do I Need an Accessibility Statement On My Website?
2. Consistent Web Design
If you provide consistent navigation links, repeated components, and intuitive functionality, your visitors will notice. Consistency helps people find the information they need without fighting against your website’s interface, and it’s crucial for accessibility.
People who have mobility disabilities may need more time to navigate from page to page. If navigation elements are consistent, these users can build familiarity with your website, which makes navigation much easier.
People who use screen readers may scan through important parts of your web page before reading or interacting with it. When every page has a similar design, this is a much easier process.
For some people with neurocognitive differences, consistent websites are easier to understand and operate.
All users benefit when they don’t need to learn new functionality for different sections or pages.
To be clear, your website can still be unique; contrary to popular misconception, accessible websites aren’t ugly or simplistic. When you think about consistency from page to page, you’re simply following the best practices of web design. That helps people stay focused on the actual content.
Related: Why Consistency is Important to Accessible Design
3. Image Alternative Text
Alternative text (also known as alt text) explains the function of images, graphs, and other graphical content. Accurate alt text benefits people with vision disabilities, people who browse with images disabled, and people with slow internet connections.
Missing alternative text is one of the most common accessibility barriers, and it’s also one of the simplest issues to fix. If your website doesn’t have alt text, you may be a prime target for an accessibility lawsuit — and even if you don’t receive an accessibility demand letter, you’re missing an easy opportunity to improve your users' experiences.
Related: Alternative Text: What and Why
4. Keyboard Accessibility
People who use assistive technologies (AT) like screen readers or speech recognition software may need to navigate using a keyboard alone (no mouse). These users will quickly notice whether your website responds to basic keyboard commands — and whether their keyboard focus indicator moves in a logical, predictable way.
Keyboard accessibility testing is essential, particularly for complex websites. You can perform a basic test by using keyboard commands to scroll through your content.
However, if you’re not familiar with keyboard commands, your results may be limited — the best practice is to audit your content regularly using a combination of automated and manual tests.
Related: Give Yourself an Accessibility Test: Don't Use a Mouse
Send a clear message to your audience: We care about accessibility
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the consensus standard for digital accessibility. WCAG is an excellent resource for organizations of every size, and websites that follow WCAG’s Level AA requirements are considered reasonably accessible for most individuals with disabilities.
To find out how your website stacks up with WCAG, get started with a free automated web accessibility analysis.