Do you develop web content? If so, figuring out how to make your site accessible for blind and low vision people can feel challenging if you're sighted. Where do you start, what guidelines should you follow, and how do you test your content?
In the lead up to World Sight Day next week, we share five things you can do to make sure your content is not just accessible to people who are sighted, but all your users.
1. Think about accessibility at the beginning
When you’re designing a website, it’s best practice to think about who’s going to use it. This sometimes involves crafting fictional personas that represent your ideal user, and building according to their needs.
According to Elsa Vane, the Accessibility Specialist at Pluralsight, people are all too often thinking of a person without a disability, and this influences their design decisions.
“It’s only further along in the process that someone says ‘Hey, did we think about accessibility?’ And someone answers ‘Oh, we forgot about it, let’s talk about it now.’”
By thinking about accessibility at the earliest stages, this makes it easier to include it in the final design, rather than working against the grain halfway through the process.
2. Use accessibility testing tools like WAVE and Color Oracle
Not everyone can afford to hire an accessibility specialist, and consulting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, can feel daunting. At over 22,000 words, the acronym can feel like the only short thing about it.
Thankfully, in 2022, it’s never been easier to test for web accessibility.
“The WAVE tool is great for people who are not Accessibility Specialists. It knows what WCAG is asking for, and when you run it, it tells you what doesn’t meet accessibility guidelines,” Elsa said. “It detects things like broken ARIA references, contrast and structural issues, and more.”
Another useful tool is Color Oracle, a free color blindness simulator for Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can also test out if your website works with a real screen reader such as NVDA.
3. Keep in mind the spectrum of visibility
While it’s important to take screen readers into account, it’s a myth that everyone who is blind uses one. Only 15 percent of people with eye disorders are totally blind, and this is something you should keep in mind when making design decisions.
“A lot of people seem to think things like font size don’t matter because ‘blind people only use a screen reader’, which is not true,” Elsa said. “There’s also a lot of people who are not blind who can’t read 11 point font.”
“It’s important to acknowledge the full spectrum of visibility.”
4. Think about accessibility in terms of information gathering
“One way of making sure a website is accessible is to think about the physical experience, but another is to think of it at the information-gathering level,” Elsa said.
“If you present something in a visual manner, can people still understand it in a non-visual way, and vice-versa? Make sure people learn what they want to learn when they come to you, regardless of learning styles or abilities.”
Missing Alt text for images was the second most common WCAG failure type in 2022, affecting 55% of all web pages.
5. Make sure your text has color contrast
The most commonly-detected accessibility issue is low contrast text, which affects a whopping 83.9% of all home pages. An example is putting dark gray text on a black background, where there’s not enough contrast for people with low vision to make out the words.
Accessibility tools like WAVE can detect this for you, but if you are a designer, you can also enter the hex codes of your background and foreground into the WebAIM contrast checker. You can then adjust the values until you achieve a level of contrast that will meet WCAG requirements.
Further learning on accessibility
Pluralsight offers a dedicated learning path called “Developing Websites for Accessibility”. It includes seven highly-rated courses on how you can test and evaluate accessibility, explore design considerations, and provide accessibility for elements, images, and other forms of media.
Pluralsight is dedicated to making our platform accessible to all. If you notice any issues with our website or learning platform, don’t hesitate to contact us on email@example.com.
For more on this subject, we highly recommend listening to the podcast “Accessibility needs to go beyond compliance with Elsa Vane.” In the podcast, Elsa offers further tips and suggestions to developers, and discusses how accessibility can also drive creativity.
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