In layman terms, digital accessibility is the ability of websites by which almost everyone can access them. These users could be normal or have audio-visual impairments, cognitive or motor disabilities. Digital accessibility ensures that websites, webpages, mobile applications etc. are easy to access and understand. This involves paying special attention to elements like site structure, organization of a website, navigation ease, clarity of text and readability.
The target of improving Digital Accessibility is to make the digital world accessible to as many people as possible. There are several ways to improve digital accessibility of a website post its development but it is recommended to build this feature from the beginning of the design and development process. There are certain elements that enhance digital accessibility by making websites easy to access for all kinds of users. We will discuss them one by one and how they improve accessibility.
A screen reader is an important accessibility tool. It relies heavily on HTML codes and semantics to convey information to the user. A well defined HTML code with descriptive semantics guides the screen reader on how to interact with the page elements. HTML tags without semantics and custom codes are useless for users. Standard HTML codes ensure that screen readers maintain a logical flow.
Several page elements can be grouped and separate page sections can be created. These could be header, footer, navigation etc. A reader can spot these elements and announce them which allows for additional ease of navigation between elements.
Keyboard navigation works best if users can navigate within a page by jumping from one item to another. Keyboard navigation is required for users with temporary or permanent vision impairment and those without hands or fine motor control. Developers must ensure that any elements (buttons, links, form fields, date picker etc.) which are accessible by a mouse should also be accessible using a keyboard. Such embedding is needed to facilitate digital accessibility effectively. Basic keyboard controls of a page include:
Enter key: Activates a selected link/ button
Space bar: Activates a selected form element
Tab/shift+tab key: For navigating among elements
Escape key: To navigate away/ close an element
Readers move from one link to another in case of linking text and descriptions of URLs. Any vague text that provides very little context to screen readers is futile. For ex: ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ are worthless even if a screen reader reads them out to a user. Precise and descriptive information should be provided with the links. Alternate image and video text helps readers announce the same to users which helps them understand the content better. Video transcriptions which are accurate and concise help maintain a flow to readers.
This is a very useful and important tool when it comes to assistive technologies. These attributes allow developers to insert vital information and additional context about the page content and elements. For ex: <a href=’...’> Contact </a> , in this case the reader reads out ‘contact’ which makes very little sense, but in <a href=’....’ aria label=“email the manager”>Contact </a> makes much more sense as the reader reads out ‘contact the manager.’ Aria labels add vital info to call to action buttons and other elements that tell the reader what lies ahead.
Forms should be well organized in a logical order with clearly defined labels. There should be no placeholder text, and the forms should be single columned. HTML input type format is preferred as it eliminates the need to switch between keyboards.
Information like table headers add a lot to assisting a user. CSS script is recommended over tables for preparing the layout of a page. HTML is used for presenting tabular data on a webpage.
A structural flow to the content is of utmost importance as it makes the user understand easily and retain the information. Descriptive headings while keeping semantics in mind add to the assistive technologies and help users with cognitive or learning disabilities understand your content better. Alignment too is crucial as left aligned text maintains consistency and outlines a clear path for the eyes to follow. Avoid mixing different text alignments and use centre aligned single line headings for giving a smooth and neat appearance to the web page.
A regular font structure with sans-serif fonts make it easier to read. Use of multiple fonts is discouraged as it disrupts text flow and readability. Website owners must limit variation in fonts and font sizes as far as possible. Use contrasting color schemes so that text is legible on top of backgrounds. Combining shapes and icons with colors helps improve the appearance and accessibility.
More and more techniques like the ones listed above if implemented enhance digital accessibility and allow all kinds of users to understand and engage with websites despite any impairments and disabilities.
Developers should plan these in advance before the designing phase of websites. Infusing these techniques in websites can help marketers attract more traffic as a simple website which is easy to access is not beneficial just to people with disabilities but also for regular users.