A graphic for a website on an introduction for website accessibility for marketers
March 28, 2019 by Mark Brownlee

How to make your website accessible: An introduction for marketers

Ensuring everyone can enjoy and understand your website should be a priority for all marketers.

But for too long, many website creators have designed features that make accessibility difficult for certain demographics.

That’s why, in recent years, web designers have made website accessibility a key priority.

This helps to create websites so that everyone can put them to full use.

It’s a long overdue trend that all marketers should prioritize.

What is website accessibility

Website accessibility is the process of designing websites so that everyone can access them.

For marketers, it’s an essential part of ensuring that the key messages you’re trying to communicate reach as wide an audience as possible – including people with disabilities.

According to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), “Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web”.

This includes:

  • auditory
  • cognitive
  • neurological
  • physical
  • speech
  • visual

Why website accessibility should matter to you

It makes for a better user experience for everyone

A big part of web accessibility is about making your site more usable for people with disabilities.

But there are also a ton of benefits for anyone using your website.

For example: The web accessibility initiative says that website accessibility principles can help a site more accessible on non-traditional devices.

This includes the big one (mobile phones) but also a host of other tools: smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes.

It can also make a website usable for people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or those with situational limitations, such as glare from the sun.

If you care about user experience (and you should), you should care about website accessibility.

It’s the law

In many places, creating accessible websites is the law.

Take Ontario for example. In that province, any private or non-profit organization with more than 50 employees “must make new and significantly refreshed public websites accessible”.

This also applies to all public-sector organizations, meaning that website accessibility is a must-have if you are a marketer or communicator for a government department or agency.

Many jurisdictions (including Ontario) require organizations to follow the WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

It makes it easier to communicate your key messages

This isn’t complicated. People who can’t access your website won’t hear what you have to say. And if they can’t hear what you have to say, they’re not likely to further engage with your brand in the future.

Every time someone can’t read your website is missed opportunity to connect with your audience.

It’s as simple as that.

How to implement website accessibility

Website accessibility should be baked into the process of creating a website from the very beginning.

Here’s how you can ensure the next iteration of your website is accessible to everyone.

Design for accessibility

Design plays a major role in website accessibility.

In particular you’ll want to focus on three areas:

  • Colours: Text that doesn’t stand out against its background makes it unnecessarily difficult to read. That’s why you should avoid setting dark-coloured text against a dark-coloured background or light text on a light background. Ideally, you’ll be able to choose text with dark colour and set it against a light background for maximum contrast.
  • Size of font: Text that is too small makes it difficult for a user to read. It also creates issues for being able to interact with links. If a piece of text or other item is too small, a user won’t be able to click on it – particularly if they are on a mobile or tablet device that requires them to use their fingers to “click”.
  • Customizable text size: Many website creators allow users to choose the size of text they want to use for the site. However this should only be done if it doesn’t create issues with the design.

Build the entire website with accessibility in mind

For a website to be accessible, everything needs to meet accessibility standards.

This includes:

  • Alt text for images: Providing a description of an image by using the proper code (such as an alt text tag) makes any photos or other graphics on your website accessible to people who may not be able to see them properly. As an added bonus, it also makes these images crawlable by search engines. This helps to improve search result appearances.
  • Make your site keyboard-friendly: An accessible website needs to be usable without the assistance of a mouse. That means users should be able to use the “tab” key on their keyboard to reach every item on the page.
  • Accessible forms: Using forms on your website? You’ll need to take special steps to ensure forms meet accessibility standards.

Create accessible content

Accessibility can’t just be added after the fact. It needs to be front of mind when creating your content.

Here’s how:

  • Don’t overdo it with dynamic content: Dynamic content (i.e. any content that can change after a site loads for the first time) can meet accessibility guidelines. But it needs to designed, and coded, in the right way. You’ll want to ensure that screen readers are able to read dynamic content properly.
  • Use subheads: Subhead tags are a great way to make your content more accessible to everyone. But they play a particularly big role in website accessibility. By using header tags – h1s, h2s, h3s etc. – you can allow devices such as screen readers to easily crawl your content. That makes it much easier for people with disabilities (and everyone, really) to find what they’re looking for on your page.
  • Explain, explain, explain: A big part of accessibility is ensuring everyone can understand what you’re writing about. You’ll want to ensure you explain key acronyms and difficult concepts, while always making an effort to include links that help enrich your content.

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Article illustration by Ben Marley.

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