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Making your website accessible: what to do (and what not to do)

In web design, accessibility matters. Partly because designing high standards of accessibility into your site will improve your SEO ranking; but mostly because your site is no use to your users if they aren’t able to access it.

In the UK, one in five people have a disability – including visual impairment, hearing impairment, motor difficulties (movement), or cognitive difficulties (memory, thinking, attention). That’s 20% of your potential customers. But, the concept of accessibility doesn’t just apply to people with disabilities; someone’s ability to use your site can also be affected by the technology they’re using (eg. a small screen device), or their circumstances at the time (such as bright sunlight, illness, or tiredness).

Accessibility is about making sure that as many people as possible can access your shopfront. It’s good for your users – obviously – but good for you too since it ensures that you can sell to more customers.

Designing for accessibility

There are simple things you can do to make your store as accessible as possible:

  • Use simple colours, only to help convey meaning. Using bright, contrasting colours; or colours simply to ‘look good’ makes your website confusing and hard to use for people on the autistic spectrum and those with a visual impairment
  • Write in plain language, using simple sentences and bullet points. Not only is this easier for people with dyslexia, on the autistic spectrum, and those who use screen readers; it makes sure you get your point across concisely, which is better for everyone
  • Always (seriously, always) use HTML5 tags (H1, H2, etc.) for your content. It is the only way to ensure that your site can be accessed using assistive technology such as screen readers and magnifiers
  • Use a linear, logical, consistent layout across all of your pages. It helps all users find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily.- Avoid anything which moves. Animations, elements that fly in from the sides of the page, or fade in from the background, are distracting and unnecessary. If it doesn’t add meaning to your site, don’t use it. The same goes for images and graphics – if they don’t add meaning, don’t use them
  • Publish all information on web pages, in HTML format. Don’t hide information in downloads – and especially not in .PDFs which can’t be accessed by many people who don’t have the right software, or if the .PDFs haven’t been created correctly
  • Use good colour contrasts, and a readable font size. Making sure that your font can be read against the background is obviously paramount, so choose a good colour combination to enable this. Never put a light font on a dark background (eg. white on black). Light fonts on dark backgrounds are easier for most people to read, especially those with a visual impairment, dyslexics, and people on the autistic spectrum
  • Align all your text to the left of the page, and never underline words (it makes them look like a hyperlink), write in capitals (you look like you’re shouting), or use italics (hard to read)
  • Use tags, subtitles, and transcripts where they will help. If you have content on your site which can only be accessed in one way – such as photos, videos, or audio – always provide an accessible alternative, such as a written description

Test, Test, Test

Once you’ve finished your web design, and you think it’s perfect; show it to as many people as possible and get them to test it. The wider range of people who use your site in it’s early days, the more easily you’ll be able to spot issues and sort them out before they become a problem.

And, if you need any advice on how to make your site accessible, contact our experts today.

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