3 Ways to Improve Your Website’s Accessibility Today

03 Jan 2018 web accessibility

Around here, we’re big on web accessibility—i.e., ensuring that web content is built and managed in a way that is accessible to all users, regardless of their ability. With millions of Americans using assistive technologies, like screen readers, to use the Internet, accessibility isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s smart business.

The accessibility of your organization’s website depends largely on how it was built in the first place. But there are a few things you, as a website manager, can do to make sure your site remains open and available to every single user.

1. Use Alt Tags for Your Images

An alt tag is text that describes the image you’re adding to your site. When screen reading software encounters an image—for people who are blind or have visual impairments—it will read aloud the alt tag.

Therefore, you want to:

a. Always add an alt tag for every single image (usually done in your CMS when you first upload the image file), but only include text inside of the alt tag if the image needs to convey meaning. If an image does not need to convey meaning and is just for visual interest, the alt tag should be left empty.

b. Make the text descriptive and simple.

c. NOT include the words “picture of” or “image of.” Instead, simply describe the critical elements of the image.

For example, for this photo:

… your alt tag could be as simple as: “Panda playing a guitar in a tree.”

While for an image like this:

… your alt tag might be “Baby excited to pet cat but cat is not interested.”

 

2. Make Your Links Descriptive

When creating a hyperlink, try to make the link text—i.e., the words that constitute the link—as descriptive as possible. Again, screen reading technology will tell a user when a link appears, but if the link text doesn’t let the user know where you’re sending them, it can easily create confusion and frustration for the user.

Good Link:

“… and be sure to learn more about our upcoming events.”

Bad Link:

“... and be sure to learn more about our upcoming events.”

Good Link:

“Click here to see photos from the wedding.”

Bad Link:

“Click here to see photos from the wedding.”

 

3. Use Page Structure

The gist of all of this advice is: Be thoughtful about every little thing on your website. Give each page, headline, image, etc. some thorough consideration.

Page structure may be the best thing you can do for your users with disabilities. The more structure you offer them—in the form of headers, subheads, bulleted lists, numbered lists, block quotes, etc.—the more easily they’ll access and comprehend your content.

This is solid UX design advice in general, because even users without disabilities read differently online: they don’t. They skim and skip around and scan. Page structure—that is, way more structure than you’d create if you were publishing something on actual paper—allows every single user to discover the information they’re after.

Also, be sure that every page on your website has an H1 (headline 1) tag and that you follow the natural progression of headline styles down the page. H1 headlines should be followed by an H2 subhead, not an H3 subhead, and so on.

Is Your Website Accessible?

Again, while you can control some of your website’s accessibility, most of it depends on how your website was built in the first place. Sadly, web developers haven’t become hip to accessible design until the last few years. So if your site is more than 2-3 years old, there’s a good chance it isn’t accessible. A simple accessibility audit can give you a clear picture of what changes you need to make to meet modern standards. Let us know if you’d like us to perform an audit.

Stephen Tidmore

VP of Technology

With more than two decades in Web development, Stephen leads the Development team at TradeMark.

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