If you’re working on a website design for a government agency, nonprofit or healthcare company, accessibility is one of many considerations you’ll need to take into account.
If you’ve never designed for accessibility, some of the terminology and best practices might be unfamiliar to you. However, in addition to making sure that people with disabilities can use your website properly, accessible design also benefits your search engine optimization. So here are a few resources to get you started.
What is accessibility and 508 compliance?
Accessibility means designing so that physically disabled visitors to a website — including blind or deaf users as well as people with mobility limitations who can’t use a mouse — can still access your content, and all the meaningful functionality works for them.
In contrast, 508 compliance means your website meets the minimum standards set by Section 508 of the U.S. Code. Section 508 requires that federal agencies and their contractors provide a minimum level of accessibility for their websites.
Common issues for accessibility
Similarly, CSS used in conjunction with font-replacement technologies like Cufon, Google Fonts and Typekit means you don’t have to present important text like headings as images in order to utilize attractive fonts.
Providing descriptive alt-text for images and titles for links is another simple fix which improves accessibility, and improves your search engine optimization as well. Also, watch out for contrast between the font color and backgrounds, or making color differences the only way to distinguish between two different options.
It’s also a good idea to make sure your markup is nice and semantic. Screen readers use your source code to determine what order to read things. Keeping the markup tidy and logical means a user who’s listening to the content instead of viewing it won’t get confused.
Finally, utilizing skip navigation will allow users to skip to the content, instead of having to listen to the same navigation options repeatedly (and tediously). There are methods to hide the skip link offscreen, so it won’t disrupt your visual user experience.
Designing for accessibility does require some extra attention. However, making sure your hard work can be appreciated by everyone, regardless of physical ability, is worth the effort.