Post updated September 2, 2020
When we talk about website accessibility, what does that mean? Broadly speaking, an accessible website is built so that all users have equal access to its content and functionality. In order to understand what makes a website accessible, it’s helpful to consider the various types of visitors who may access your website.
1. People with disabilities
This is the most common meaning of “accessibility” when we talk about websites, and there is a lot to consider here. You may have site visitors who have visual impairments and navigate the internet via a screen reader.
Other users may be physically unable to use a mouse or type on a keyboard. These visitors might use voice commands to access the internet. In this case, devices like Alexa or Google Home, or interactive methods like Siri or Cortana become real tools for making your content available.
There are a number of measures you can take to improve your website for people with visual impairments, including making sure your images have alt tags for screen readers, or improving contrast ratios for users with colorblindness. You can make sure that your site can be accessed with a keyboard, and not just a mouse. Another thing to consider is whether your website’s text can easily be enlarged by the browser for easier reading.
While a good-looking website is important to establish credibility for your organization, when it comes down to it, the most important aspect of your website is its information. So you should ensure that your content is readable even without any visual presentation or visual structure. Make sure that the removal of visual elements like images or content separator graphics from your website won’t have an impact on the information you want to convey.
You can see the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) here.
Want to see how your site stacks up? Enter your website in this tool, and see where you can improve.
2. Visitors with slow internet connections
Not everyone has access to high-speed internet. While your website might load quickly with your fast connection, visitors in under-served areas might struggle to access your website from a slow connection due to your website’s large images or lack of caching.
One way you can improve accessibility for slow internet connections is by optimizing your images and files for the web. Another way is by using caching, which allows the server or web browser to access previously-accessed resources more quickly on subsequent visits. You might choose to serve resources from a Content Delivery Network (CDN). In some cases, improving website speed might also mean investing in better, faster website hosting.
3. Visitors who speak different languages
You may have visitors who want to access your site, but who don’t speak the language your website is written in. If they are part of your target market and you need to make your website accessible in different languages, there are various options, depending on what your needs are. You could hire professional translators and use a WordPress plugin like TranslatePress or WordPress Multilingual to integrate those translations. Or you could add a Google Translate bar to your website. Machine translation will never be as good as a human, but despite what you may have heard, Google Translate is improving every day and may be sufficient to get your point across.
Keep in mind that if you do choose to offer your website in various European languages, this may be an indication you are targeting a European market. That means you’ll need to be sure to make your website and your organization GDPR-compliant.
Pro Tip: It is not good practice to assume your visitor wants to visit your site in the language of the country where he or she is physically located. There are immigrants all over the world. If your visitor is in Germany, don’t force him or her to the German version of your website unless he types in the “.de” domain, clearly indicating that preference. Let your visitor make the choice, and in all cases, make the language options available easily visible.
4. Visitors using various devices
Your users may not have access to a desktop or laptop computer; they may only have a smartphone to access the Internet. Or, on the contrary, they may only have a computer and not a smartphone capable of internet navigation. So website accessibility means your website should work on as many devices as possible, without requiring a smartphone, a computer, or a mouse.
Let your users know you care about website accessibility.
An accessibility statement is a good way to let your users know that you’ve made your best efforts to make your website accessible to as wide an audience as possible. You can outline the features you’ve updated and encourage users to contact you if they have trouble accessing your website.
Can you think of other ways you could improve your website accessibility for different populations? Let us know in the comments.