Improving internet accessibility
With over 2 billion people using the internet and over 100,000 websites being launched every day, the internet is intertwined in our lives like never before. A few clicks of a mouse bring the knowledge of the world right to your screen, and within minutes you can be blogging about books or watching a documentary about dolphins – if you’re physically able to use a mouse and keyboard, that is, or you’re able to read a computer screen and hear audio.
If you have a disability that affects how you interact with the technology that others use every day, the internet can be a much more frustrating place. That’s where accessibility comes in.
What is accessibility?
Sometimes called “inclusivity”, accessibility means understanding the conditions that make it harder for people to interact with the world, and creating suitable adaptations for those conditions. For example, low-rise floors on buses make it easier for mums with prams and people in wheelchairs use public transport – literally making normal use of the bus more accessible for people who might find climbing up steps physically difficult.
Online, accessibility is about identifying and removing any obstacles that might creep into website design. We’re proud to have recently worked with the Cardiff Institute for the Blind, Cardiff’s oldest charity, who work to support people living with sight loss all across South Wales. They work to make life better for blind and partially-sighted people, including providing computer training and information about access technology that allows people to experience the internet.
A significant problem that they run into is that a lot of websites can be hard to navigate for a non-visual user, so here, we offer a few tips on how to make your website more user-friendly.
How can I make my site more accessible?
The most basic thing that you can do is make sure that your content is well-written and properly structured. If it’s easy to read, both in sense of the words you use and the clarity of the font you choose, you’re already helping people to understand you. You should also look at the technicalities of structure, making sure that it’s intuitive to follow a logical progression to other pages of your site and using headings and lists to present content clearly, navigating your site will become a lot easier for all of your visitors.
Ensuring that your links make sense is important, too, as users of screen readers can choose to use only the links on a page in order to discern where to move next. A link that just says “click here” can be very ambiguous out of context, whereas a specific phrase indicating the subject of the page will be easy to identify, such as “feature website portfolio” and “Creo project planner”.
If you have lots of videos or audio files on your site, making sure that you have transcriptions or captions will help someone hard of hearing to understand what the content is about. In short, you should be making sure that your content is understandable by people who can’t see or hear, and that your site is navigable by those who cannot use input devices like a mouse and keyboard.
Can I read up about accessibility?
There are extensive guidelines available to help website developers make their sites more accessible. The World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, is the international standards organisation for the internet. They enforce global compatibility of web technologies, making sure everyone in the industry works to the same standards so that all browsers can view all websites. They also advise on accessibility so that everyone, everywhere, can experience the internet equally.
If you find any websites that are difficult to use, it takes less than a minute to report it to Fix the Web, whose volunteers email advice on improvements to website owners. There are also resources available at the BBC, where the “My Web My Way” initiative is devoted to improving accessibility, and at AbilityNet, an advocacy charity who work to help organisations to build and maintain accessible sites, and to help empower disabled people to use digital technologies.