By Mike McClure and Tony Johnson
Imagine you want to buy a pair of shoes from your favorite web store. The page loads blank. The form won’t submit. Unrecognizable errors and text litter the screen. After trying for 15 minutes, you give up. Now imagine the same experience every day on nearly every website you visit. Sadly, this is what much of the current web is like for people with disabilities.
Over the years, web practitioners have too often ignored the issue of accessibility. But it is too important to be overlooked – and today’s browsers make it easier than ever before to improve your site’s performance in this area.
Mouth operated joystick
Image courtesy Univ. of Arizona Technology Access Center of Tucson
As user experience consultants, our goal is to help users access content and functionality. We conduct studies in our usability lab and develop strategies to improve performance. More and more clients are coming to us with specific requirements regarding accessibility.
Perhaps you have a website that government employees will need to access and “Section 508 Compliance” has been requested. Or a considerable percentage of your visitors use screen readers. Or maybe you just want to be future-ready.
Braille adaptive technology
Image courtesy mobility international usa
You should know what your accessibility goals are before you begin to create content or design. Why? Trying to make a site more accessible after launch is an extremely difficult task. Phrases like “it would be easier to start over” and “how many years will take?” may be heard. So, where do you start? Here are 5 things you can do right now to improve the accessibility of your site.
1. Assess your organization’s risk.
Are there potential legal issues in denying users with disabilities access to your website? Several lawsuits have settled, and many more are pending related to this issue. Know your organization’s legal responsibilities regarding web users with disabilities – check with your legal department.
Quadriplegic using head wand
Image courtesy Joseph Lorenzo Hall
2. Fix your code.
Bad markup leads to many accessibility issues including:
Follow best practices:
An adaptive keyboard
Image courtesy Georgia State Univ.
3. Validate code + Test with emulators.
Use the W3C validation service to eliminate many errors in your code. Test your site with screen readers and magnifiers to see how your site actually performs in terms of accessibility. With this information, you can more easily determine your weak spots, and come up with a remediation plan.
4. Analyze your site.
Having your website analyzed by a 3rd party service is an effective way to see exactly where your weak points are, and how they align with your stated accessibility goals. There are also firms that specialize in this task and will create reports and remediation plans for you.
5. Conduct a usability test.
Although less common than conventional usability tests, seeing your site in action with participants with disabilities will provide valuable insights, actionable recommendations, and leave a lasting impact on your approach to projects going forward. (Emily Eaton once tested a site with blind and visually-impaired people, and one of the participants found a typo via the screen reader! It was fascinating to watch.) Our in-house usability lab is high-tech and can support this kind of test.
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