As web designers we are always looking for ways to make a website user-friendly. But what if that user is blind? Accessibility in web design is a topic that seems to be cyclical, often popping up when something “newsworthy” happens. Unfortunately, websites are being made every day and because accessibility isn’t necessarily a legal obligation, it is often skipped over.
The Search Engine Journal recently published Leslie Duncan’s article, “Designing a User-Friendly Website for the Blind”, and I was pleasantly surprised by all of her practical tips for web designers hoping to create sites with accessibility in mind. Here are some of the highlights from that article.
You customers might be visually impaired
Strictly from a practical sense, businesses need to recognize that their customers might not be able to use their website the way it is:
“You spend time on website design and SEO to drive traffic with the goal of converting, but are you reaching everyone on the internet? People with vision impairment and other disabilities are in the workforce and earning money, so you want them to be able to use your site, too.
According to a study conducted by the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, just the discretionary income alone of those with disabilities is $175 billion. With the baby boomer generation getting older, the number of people with discretionary income who also have vision impairment is on the rise.”
Tips for better website accessibility
Empty your alt-text
“For elements that aren’t relevant for a vision-impaired user, such as a decorative bullet, use empty alt-text. Screen reading software knows not to read this code and will skip over it. The same applies to images next to a link. One example is an envelope image next to an ‘email this’ link. The envelope helps sighted users quickly see what that link is for, but is completely irrelevant for the vision impaired.”
Put important information at the top
“All users want to find the information they’re looking for as quickly and easily as possible, so put it where it’s easiest for them to find it. Even screen reader users can quickly scan through paragraphs and links, listening to only the first few words before deciding if it’s relevant to them.”
Limit the links on each page
“When users open a page using JAWS, the first thing they hear is the number of links on the page. When participants heard that there were more than 100 links on a page, they expressed feelings of disappointment and were overwhelmed.”
Use anchor text and headings for easier navigation
“Relevant anchor text and headings are something every content developer should implement and this point is reinforced through screen reading software users. Screen reading software provides the option of hearing just a list of links on the page as a way to speed up navigation. If your links read ‘click here’ or ‘more information’, then this is not helpful to a person with visual impairments. They will have to exit out of the ‘Links List’ mode (as it is called in JAWS) and listen to the content that comes before the link in order to know whether it is the link they want. Anchor text such as ‘More information on product X’ is better.
Similarly, screen reading software knows to look for the header tags and provides the option of scrolling through these. Separating the sections on the page with relevant H2 headings makes your site easier for everyone to navigate.”
Read the entire article, “Designing a User-Friendly Website for the Blind”.
Is your website designed with accessibility in mind? Contact us and we will go through it with you.