Many small business owners think of digital accessibility as a series of technical, complicated rules. If you have limited resources for web design and development, accessibility can seem like an expensive extra — but fortunately, that’s not the case.
Website accessibility is achievable on any budget, and it’s a savvy investment regardless of the size of your business. Even if you can’t afford professional testing and remediation, you can take immediate steps to remove barriers that affect people with disabilities. Here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Understand the principles of web accessibility
The world of accessibility has clear rules, and even if you have limited skills as a programmer or designer, you can use those rules to start evaluating your content right away.
Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the international standard for digital accessibility. While WCAG includes pass-or-fail “success criteria" for evaluating web content, it isn’t a simple checklist. The document is organized into four principles: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Read more about the four principles of web accessibility.
Before making any changes to your website, use these principles to consider real-world outcomes. Focusing on the why of web accessibility can be enormously beneficial for small businesses.
For example, WCAG requires websites to provide alternative text (also called alt text) for images. That’s important because images aren’t natively perceivable for people with vision disabilities; adding accurate alternative text enables people to perceive the content with screen readers and other assistive technologies.
If you understand the reasoning behind accessibility standards, you’ll find more opportunities to make useful improvements — and you’ll understand why those improvements are important.
2. Analyze your website with free or low-cost tools
The best way to build accessible content is to work with experienced accessibility experts. However, free tools can help you identify (and fix) many common WCAG failures.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a free graded accessibility report that tests content against WCAG 2.1 Level AA success criteria. Other tools are also available for automated testing — just make sure that the audit uses the latest version of WCAG Level AA success criteria (currently, WCAG 2.1).
Some tips for remediating issues found through an automated accessibility test:
Understand why you’re fixing the issue.
Automated tests can create false positives, so don’t change your website unless you have confidence in the results. Once again, it’s helpful to consider the principles of accessibility; if you don’t understand why you’re remediating a certain issue, perform some research before proceeding.
Review WCAG for remediation guidance.
Adding alternative text to an image will stop your automated accessibility checker from flagging “missing alt text,” but if you don’t write accurate descriptions, the issue isn’t resolved from the user’s perspective.
The official publication of WCAG 2.1 offers remediation examples for each success criterion, which can be useful when reviewing the results of an automated audit. Our Digital Accessibility blog also provides detailed explanations of many common accessibility issues.
Don’t trust automated testing alone for compliance.
Treat automated tests as the first step towards compliance with WCAG and laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Use the results of the test to get an overview of your site’s general accessibility, but remember that some issues require human evaluation.
3. Prioritize your accessibility fixes
You know that web accessibility benefits your business, and you’re ready to start making improvements. Where do you start?
If your small business has limited resources, there’s an easy answer: Start wherever you can. Many accessibility issues can be remediated easily at a low cost (or at no cost) and with little technical know-how. For example:
- Add alternative text to images. Write clear, concise descriptions to accommodate users who don’t perceive content visually (and avoid some of the common mistakes of writing alt text).
- Add captions to videos. By writing accurate captions when drafting your video scripts, you can easily add an important accessibility feature to multimedia.
- Use color thoughtfully. If your website uses color alone to convey information, add additional text so that users with vision-related disabilities can understand the content. Use our Color Contrast Accessibility Validator to choose color combinations that meet WCAG guidelines for color contrast.
- Write descriptive subheadings and page titles. These semantic HTML elements can improve the on-page experience for many people with disabilities. Descriptive titles and subheadings also help with SEO.
You can also prioritize remediation by the severity of the accessibility barrier. WCAG makes this much easier: Level A success criteria are the most crucial for accessibility and should be prioritized first. After resolving Level A failures, move on to Level AA success criteria.
4. Remember the benefits of digital accessibility
Most businesses have a legal obligation to provide accessible web content, and improving your site may limit your chances of litigation. Accessible design practices can also attract more users, enhance your search engine positioning, and help you stand out from your competitors.
In short, accessibility isn’t just the right thing to do — if you market your business online, it’s a crucial part of your marketing strategy. By focusing on accessibility early in your website’s development, you’ll take an important step towards long-term success.