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25 Years of Accessibility 

25+ years on and accessibility is as important as ever.

From 1995, the UK government introduced laws around inclusion for all, but have only recently published written guidelines on how this translates to mobile and web applications. Using functional design principles and tailored website requirements to ensure each digital platform is providing the best user experience for all. 

When developing your bespoke application, it’s important to keep in mind these principles from start to finish. Providing website accessibility to help people with disabilities participate more actively, improving life experience for all. In this post, we’re detailing what these guidelines mean for your business, how to make your website more user friendly and why you should think about accessibility testing.

What’s the difference between accessibility and usability?

Whilst it’s important to consider both when building your website, these two terms mean different things. According to the UK Government, accessibility means making your content and design clear so most people can use the application without having to adapt it. Whereas usability refers to the: ease at which an average person can use the website or application to achieve specific goals. Essentially working together to harness streamlined and functional user experiences for the majority of website users. 

The legal history of Accessibility:

Inclusion is an important subject that creates a unique sense of belonging for everyone. Since 1995, every person, company and business owner has had to abide by the Disability Discrimination Act. Protecting those classed with a disability and making reasonable adjustments to support their condition. Following that was the 2010 Equality Act protecting anyone from unlawful discrimination and criminal behaviour, due to certain characteristics. Effectively meaning that inclusion has been around for more than 25 years. But how can this translate to your website?

In 2018 the Accessibility Regulations were officially published by the Public Sector Bodies for Website and Mobile Applications. These are known as the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG principles. They made it a legal requirement for every website to provide an accessibility statement, showcasing the level of accessibility your website holds, essentially how user-friendly your website is. Within both the website interface and accessibility statement, business owners needed to demonstrate how their application was: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

The WCAG Principles:

There are many ways you can improve website accessibility and overall user experience. When these guidelines first became legally binding, the government published extensive guidelines with advice on how to ensure your website met these requirements. They categorised their advice within the four different sections:

Principle 1: Perceivable – ensuring website visitors can recognise and use your service with the senses that are available to them.

Principle 2: Operable – ensuring your website visitors can find and use your content, regardless of how they choose to access it.

Principle 3: Understandable – ensuring your website visitors can understand your content and how the service works.

Principle 4: Robust – ensuring your content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents.

It’s important to always be thinking of these principles whether you’re developing a new website or rebuilding an existing website. But what do these look like in practice? It’s subjective to the website optimisations needed and business goals. When laying the foundations for website accessibility, you need to consider how different elements work together so you can create a functional website that’s accessible for all. Whilst there are many ways to make your website more accessible, here are some of the basic principles you should consider:

How to make your website more accessible:

When adding articles or copy to your website always ensure you use title tags, video subtitles and add alternative descriptions. These describe what your website content is referring to and ensures your users understand the dialogue, benefiting both international visitors and those who may be visually impaired. Try to always use plain English, the UK government recommends that website writing should always be clear, specific and informative. This makes it easier for the user to absorb the content and understand what your website is about.

In doing this ensure that the chosen website font is easy to read. You can do this by opting to use larger fonts that are readable on different devices, consider 14 points and above, and ensure you have a good contrast ratio. It’s important to point out each element on your website needs to be accessible, this also includes downloads. If you offer these resources on your website, have a large print copy on offer, or those who may be visually impaired. To find out more accessible solutions for your website here.  

Contrast ratio refers to the difference between your websites lightest and darkest colours. This means that users can easily differentiate each section of your website, as those with visual impairments may have difficulties in seeing this difference and reading embedded text in certain contrast levels. It ensures they can easily digest the content, just like any other website user.  

In terms of website navigation, ensure each element is properly marked up. By this, we mean properly labelling each feature both in the front end and back end. For example, defining forms and data tables. This means that website visitors using assistive technology can understand each element and easily find what they are looking for. Similarly, use valid HTML across your website and minimise broken links or error pages. Whilst it does increase your SEO and website functionality, this also helps people using assistive technology to accurately interpret content and understand it in the wider website context. Ensuring your website is accessible using different search tools and technologies. 

Accessibility Testing

If you have the budget to do so, we would highly recommend using an external testing team. They can carry out accessibility testing, confirming that your website can be used by as many people as possible. This involves a comprehensive review of both the front end and back end of your website including the following methods: automated testing, manual code review, UX review and user testing. It’s important to point out that if your website has been developed by a third party, you need to actively collaborate with suppliers to cater for this. 

Conclusion

With 1 in 5 people having long term impairments, it’s important your website meets specialised user needs, provides a good user experience and is accessible to all.

Our team of experts can work together to develop an accessible website that actively improves site usability and meets the needs of your users. Whilst meeting your business objectives and creating long term functionality. 

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  • Written by Jess Cory, October 01 2021