Guide to website accessibility

Most businesses are aware of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which aims to stop discrimination faced by disabled people in accessing a company's goods or services, but many don't realise that accessibility also applies to their websites.

As well as complying with accessibility guidelines, making your site available to everyone opens up possibilities of trade with the UK’s disabled consumers who spend £45-to-£55 billion a year on goods and services. So says Dean Russell, of iConcertina Creative, who is on the British Standards Institute review board creating the website accessibility standard.

The DDA includes a code of practice stating that websites must be compliant. The imminent British Standard will give a definitive point of reference and will be used in courts of law should a dispute arise. Failure to ensure that a website has inclusive access could result in a claim from a disabled person who has not been able to use the site. The forthcoming British Standard review board’s Publicly Available Specification (PAS) ‘Guide to good practice in designing accessible websites’ will help with this.

The standard, which is soon to be formalised, will require websites to incorporate specific features to comply. ‘The term ‘disabilities’ covers all manner of individuals, not just the blind or partially sighted but also dyslexics or those with numeracy difficulties,’ advises Russell. ‘Furthermore, potential users should not be penalised simply because they are not ‘web savvy’ or have slow connections which means missing out on the full impact and functionality of a site.

‘Consider common sense measures like increasing the font size, changing the typeface or colour of the background,’ he continues. ‘Blind people need screen readers yet some partially sighted require a text magnification function.’

Other things worth considering are:

  • Check whether your images have alternative text – roll your mouse over the image to see if a description appears – if not this can be a major issue for a variety of users.
  • When using multimedia like video, have you provided a transcript of the audio? Many people can’t access the video content so need some other way of reading it.
  • Do the links on the page make sense out of context? Are there multiple ‘click-here’ links? Try reading the links on their own – would you still know where it is linking to without the surrounding text?
  • Is your site navigation clear – is it easy to see where you are going to, and how to get back home?
  • Partially sighted people find it easiest to read yellow text on a black background. Can users adjust tone and colour?
  • Most users lose patience and give up on a slow site so consider the bandwidth of large files to ensure that crucial information is available to all users.

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