Launching a Business Website? Here’s What You Need to Know About Accessibility
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You are about to launch your business site . Congratulations! Congratulations! You have now registered your domain name, created a catchy logo and uploaded some images to Instagram. You are just a few clicks away from taking your website live.
At least one in four of your potential customers in the United States lives with some type of a disability and may not be able to access or interact with your website. People with color blindness or visual impairments might not be able to see your brand colors and logo. Without properly ranked headings and labeled interactive elements, keyboard-only users or people who use assistive technology, like screen readers, won’t be able to navigate your site and complete purchases.
Unfortunately, most business owners design their websites without accessibility in mind and often have to work backward to fix errors. Some errors, such missing descriptions for images, can be fixed easily if you don’t have hundreds. Some, like website navigation structure and headings might require more work.
Incorporating accessibility into your website design and development will save you time, effort, money, and ultimately, money.
These are five important steps to keep in mind when you launch your website.
1. Start with an accessible template
Regardless of your chosen platform, make sure you select an accessible template. For example, many default WordPress templates follow the latest accessibility best practices, such as color contrast, keyboard navigation and link focus.
However, even if the template is accessible, if you start customizing or adding content, accessibility errors can occur. In their Accessibility for themes help center article, Shopify reminds users, “When you customize your theme, it’s a good idea to make design and content choices that help to keep your online store accessible… Accessibility is crucial to ensure that your customers have a positive experience when shopping online. “
If you work with a digital agency, ensure they choose an accessible template for your website. If your digital agency provides an affordable ongoing accessibility tool — that’s even better.
2. Follow basic accessibility guidelines
As you start adding content to your website, keep in mind the following tips based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — the international standard for web accessibility.
- Think of the heading structure as an outline, not a style element. Use proper HTML tags and don’t skip levels.
- Add written descriptions, or alt text, to all images, including the ones used as a link, such as a logo with a homepage link. Your alt text should be concise and provide a relevant description.
- Make sure your site can be operated without a mouse, i.e., all interactive elements, such buttons, links, and form fields, are styled for keyboard focus. To test this, use the Tab key to navigate from one element to another, and Arrow keys, Enter key or Spacebar to interact.
- Use sans serif fonts, such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, which are accessible to people with dyslexia.
- When selecting brand colors, ensure there’s enough color contrast between the text and background. You should aim for a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. Use a free color contrast checker to see if your color scheme is accessible.
- Avoid complex animation and flashing images.
- Use simple, direct language and avoid uncommon names for common elements.
3. Make ALL your content accessible
Your videos, PDFs, email, and social posts must also be accessible. Make sure to use accessibility-friendly tools. YouTube and Vimeo, for example, have closed captioning. Adobe Acrobat Pro includes tools that automate certain essential accessibility tasks for PDFs. Here’s a roundup of PDF accessibility tips to get you started.
When it comes to social media, keep in mind these essential best practices:
- Limit emojis to two or three per post. Screen readers use words to describe the emojis. For example, a series of smiling faces and hearts in an Instagram caption will become “grinning face”, “smiling face with smiling eyes”, “grinning face”, “grinning face with smiling eyes”, “grinning face with heart-eyes”, “grinning face with smiley face with smiling eyes”, “grinning face with red heart, red, red, heart, red” etc. “
- Make your hashtags accessible by capitalizing the first letter of each word in the hashtag (also known as CamelCase), so that screen readers can separate the words correctly (#SuperBowl, not #SuperbOwl) and read them as words rather than as separate letters.
- Add alt text to your images. Some platforms, like LinkedIn, allow you to add alt text within about 300 character count limit.
- Add captioning filters to short-form videos, like Instagram Reels.
To make your emails accessible, follow these basic rules, in addition to website accessibility best practices described above:
- Convey the information via text, sparingly using images and other visual elements.
- Opt for a single-column layout.
- Use sans serif fonts and big enough font size that’s legible regardless of screen size.
- Make sure there’s enough space between different elements. Call-to-action buttons can be padded with padding.
- Describe links in meaningful ways. Instead of writing “click here”, write “sign up to the newsletter.” “
- Include the “plain-text” or web browser version of your email. These options are available on most email platforms like Hubspot.
4. Test before the launch
You have a couple of options to test your website. You can test it manually and use a free accessibility checker to see where you stand and what you need to fix before launching.
Make sure to check the quality and accuracy of auto-generated captions and video transcripts. These are easy to update via major hosting platforms such as YouTube.
5. Run periodic tests
As mentioned earlier, accessibility is an ongoing effort. Run periodic tests to ensure your website stays accessible to all people, regardless of ability. This will allow you to identify and correct any errors that may occur and prevent losing customers or creating legal problems. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses must make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.
If you choose an accessibility solution, make sure it includes real-time monitoring.
Why prioritize accessibility
While making your website accessible may seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be an extra expense or concern to include accessibility right from the beginning.
Accessibility is the best way to build inclusive businesses and brands. Making your website accessible will increase search rankings and make it more discoverable via voice search. Did you know that 41% of U.S. adults and 55% of teens use voice search daily? Your website will rank higher in search engines and be optimized for voice search so that more people can find you online. Online visibility is crucial for business success in the post-Covid era.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.