10 Ways to Easily Find and Fix Common Website Accessibility Issues
The internet has become an indispensable tool for navigating all spheres of life—from education to business, socializing, and everything in between. It’s the responsibility of web developers to ensure that once a website goes live, it’s not just well-designed. It should also be accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of disability, language barriers, hardware, or location.
This can be a challenge. The developer must consider all methods of accessing the web and make sure that their page can interact with others smoothly. There are stringent accessibility standards outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that all federal agencies and contractors must follow. While private businesses are not legally obliged to meet the WCAG standard, accessibility is still necessary to ensure all members of the public can use their sites unhindered.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free accessibility summary of your website to help ensure that it’s WCAG compliant. However, you can use these 10 tips to get you on the right track in making sure that your site is accessible, and pinpointing any areas where it may not be.
1. Ensure Your Non-Text Content Has Alt Text
Most websites feature non-text content like images and animation. This presents a problem to those who access the web using screen readers or other forms of assistive software. Providing text alternatives (alt text) for non-text content allows accessibility software to convey the on-screen content accurately to its users.
To test your website’s alt-text, you can use a screen reader. Alternatively, use one of the free or paid accessibility evaluation tools available online. This technology makes it easier to review and optimize your alt-text.
2. Minimize Navigation Links
A common issue with websites that have many different sections and subsections is that the top of the home page is often littered with navigation links. For an abled person, this presents no problem as they can simply skip down to the main body of content. For those using screen readers or assistive technology, however, it is a completely different story.
A screen reader will have to read out every link before getting to the main body of content, which is frustrating and unnecessary for the user. Using search bars or drop-down menus to compile or categorize navigation links goes a long way toward improving accessibility.
3. Optimize Color Contrast
Using contrasting colors on your webpage is essential for its readability. Many amateur developers make the mistake of using insufficiently contrasting colors for foreground objects (such as text) and the background, resulting in poor overall visibility. For those who have visual impairments such as color blindness or low-contrast vision, this can be a massive hindrance.
Fortunately, improving your contrast ratio is an easy fix. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free color contrast accessibility validator that anyone can use to assess whether their contrast ratios meet WCAG standards.
4. Ensure Your Page Can Handle a 200% Zoom
According to WCAG guidelines, you should be able to zoom all websites to 200% without losing readability or functionality. Checking for zoom issues is easy—simply load your webpage and zoom in to 200%. If your content still stacks and aligns nicely while remaining visible and readable, then there’s no issue. If your content overlaps, disappears, or loses functionality, then you need to redesign the layout and sizing of your content.
5. Time-Out Control
Many web pages have an automatic time-out period, after which the page will expire. This is especially common when filling out forms. The purpose of a time-out function is primarily for security—to avoid personal details on digital forms from falling into the wrong hands. After a certain period of inactivity, the page will expire and refresh to its original state.
When using assistive technology, it often takes longer for the user to read or listen to all the content on such a webpage, which results in a timeout occurring before the user manages to interact with the page at all. The user should be aware of the time limit and be able to extend it without losing their information.
6. Closed Captions
Closed captions are an essential part of accessibility for those who are hearing-impaired. Any video content on your webpage should offer users the option to either activate or deactivate closed captions. At the very least, there should be a text alternative for audio content.
If the option for closed captions or a transcript is missing, there are several free online resources available to create them. A platform like Amara allows you to add your own closed captions to video files for free, or you can pay to have them created for you professionally.
7. Form Accessibility
Digital forms present a myriad of potential accessibility issues. If your form fields and buttons are not clearly viewable on desktop, smartphone, laptop, screen readers, and other assistive technologies, those who simply struggle to read small text will have trouble interpreting them. Your website needs to be able to clearly describe all cues and instructions, as well as order them logically.
8. Keyboard Accessibility
There are many web users who are unable to use a mouse and instead, navigate and interact with web pages entirely with their keyboards. This means that every element of your web page should be accessible using only a keyboard too. The user should also be able to determine which element they’re currently resting on so they can navigate between links and select their desired option easily.
To test keyboard accessibility, try to navigate through your webpage without using a mouse. If there are elements that become inaccessible, then your page is not keyboard-friendly.
9. Links Without Text
If there’s no text used to represent the location of a hyperlink, as images often have links embedded in them, it may become inaccessible to those using screen readers.
Using text to describe hyperlinks, or at least providing alt-text for links embedded in images, will allow users to navigate between sites easily.
Certain cognitive disabilities make it much more challenging for the user to concentrate when there is animation or excessive on-screen movement present on a web page. To avoid this issue, you should minimize the use of animations, and ideally provide the user with a way to deactivate it.
All of these accessibility issues and fixes are relatively simple, but they make an enormous difference to whoever is accessing your site. The more inclusive your design and code are, the better your reach and the greater your audience will be.