In a 2021 Forrester study, 84% of companies said that they are working towards digital accessibility, and for good reason: People with disabilities control about $1.2 trillion in annual disposable income. Brands that make efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion can expand their audiences while showcasing their values.
However, creating better web content requires an investment — and while that investment pays off, most organizations want to limit spending wherever possible. Following a few practical tips can help you adopt the right approach.
1. Create a clear accessibility policy
If you’ve already made the decision to prioritize accessibility, you’ve taken an important step — but you’ll need to put your commitment in writing in order to communicate it to your team and your users.
Your accessibility policy defines goals and clarifies expectations, which can help your team make better decisions throughout development. While there’s no standard format for accessibility policies, you should make sure that the document references the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most widely cited standards for accessibility.
Most organizations should strive for Level AA conformance with the latest version of WCAG (at the time of this writing, WCAG 2.1). Define timelines for making improvements and clearly establish the scope of your initiative.
2. Start checking web accessibility early in the development process
If you’re not aware of accessibility issues, you can’t fix them. Testing your content helps to ensure that you’re fully conformant with WCAG (and compliant with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act).
As every developer knows, building better content is less time-consuming than remediating issues on a live website. To that end, you’ll need to start testing your content as early as possible.
3. Don’t rely on automated accessibility tests alone
Automated testing can be useful for identifying some common accessibility issues (for instance, missing alternative text or poor color contrast ratios). However, automated tests can return false positive and false negative results, and they can’t provide the feedback your team needs to remediate every type of issue.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility recommends using a combination of manual and automated tests. Testing should include people who live with disabilities. By involving actual humans in your audits, you’ll greatly reduce the time spent on remediation.
4. Collect (and listen to) user feedback
Reviewing the experiences of real life users can provide insights for optimizations, even if your website is already conformant with WCAG.
Add contact information to your accessibility statement and encourage users to submit feedback. Give them plenty of options; some people might prefer to send notes through an online form, while others might prefer email or a quick phone call.
Have a process in place for reviewing feedback and making user-requested changes. Remember, user experiences can vary, so don’t assume that a single user’s experience applies to all people with a certain disability.
Related: Getting Feedback From Users to Improve Accessibility
5. Keep your content as simple as possible
Get into the habit of asking questions when adding new features or content:
- Should your web page use a table to present information, or could you deliver the content with a simple HTML list?
- Do you really need to add new links to your header menu?
- Does your homepage really need a pop-up notification to keep visitors engaged?
When in doubt, stick with simple layouts and basic HTML. By cutting out unnecessarily complex elements, you can limit the time you spend remediating accessibility issues — and for most websites, simpler content means a better user experience.
6. Remember the first rule of WAI-ARIA
WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative — Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is a specification that provides semantic definitions of certain on-page elements. It’s extremely useful for delivering complex or interactive content in an accessible way — but when used incorrectly, WAI-ARIA can have a negative impact on user experiences.
Remember the Web Accessibility Initiative’s first rule of WAI-ARIA usage:
“If you can use a native HTML element or attribute with the semantics and behavior you require already built in, instead of repurposing an element and adding an ARIA role, state or property to make it accessible, then do so.”
Wherever possible, use semantic HTML to make your content more accessible. HTML is widely supported by all browsers and assistive technologies, and in most cases, it’s the best tool for defining web content.
7. Pay attention to how your website uses color
While your website’s visual appearance is important, you should make sure that users who can’t perceive color can still understand your content. Avoid using color alone to convey meaning, and make sure that your web content meets WCAG requirements for color contrast ratios. Color contrast is the difference between content and its background; when color contrast is insufficient, some users may be unable to read text.
According to non-profit organization WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)’s 2021 analysis, 86% of the home pages of the top one million websites had color contrast issues that prevented conformance with WCAG.
Fixing issues with your site’s visual presentation usually isn’t difficult — but professional designers aren’t cheap. By thinking about how your site uses color when making design decisions, you can avoid expensive redesigns.
8. Don’t look for shortcuts
Adopting the best practices of accessibility takes time. Unfortunately, you can’t download a widget or run your website through a single automated audit to fix every issue — you’ll need to review WCAG in its entirety and establish a long-term plan with clear goals.
Here’s the good news: Accessibility improves every user’s experience, resulting in improved customer retention, better search engine optimization, and dozens of other benefits. Put simply, it’s worth the time and effort; if every member of your team understands the core principles of digital accessibility, you’ll spend less time fixing issues — and your audience will show their appreciation.