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Making Accessibility More Accessible

Accessibility has long been incorporated in physical locations and has even come up with smart cities. But having accessible online content doesn’t have to be out of your reach. In a time when there has been an uptick in lawsuits, there are practical steps that you can take starting today.

I won’t overwhelm you with all the rules, guidelines, and a never-ending to-do list. Instead, let’s go over five things you can focus on immediately to tackle this problem.

Background

It may seem like a bore, but having a good understanding of “why” is the perfect place to start. The purpose of website accessibility is to help to make the internet inclusive of the millions affected by some form of disability. Some people have a permanent disability or something short-term.

The standard in the United States is the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 508. Not too long ago, there was a ruling to update this standard to follow the international guideline. Much of what you will see references the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is “the international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the web.” Whew, hopefully, that is all the acronyms you’ll find for the rest of the article.

Why is Accessibility Necessary?

Did you know that 1 in 12 men around the world are color blind?* The most common types of color blindness are where an individual doesn’t see a difference between green and red (test your vision). The bigger question is whether you’ve considered this when designing your website.

This is an example of a long-term or permanent disability. However, the person with a broken arm would temporarily have trouble using a mouse on your site.

Avoiding lawsuits is an important consideration. But it is also about reaching as many people as possible.

It is clear, accessibility is an all-around best practice.

5 Simple Areas to Improve

It is easy to get overwhelmed when you first get started. There are so many guidelines to understand, but let’s start simple.

Images

Everyone loves a good visual, except someone that can’t see it. In that case, you rely on the alternative text (alt text). The alt text describes what is in the image and why it is relevant. Usually, the default is the image’s file name from your computer. Something like “children425.jpg” is not very helpful to a visitor.

There are straightforward things to consider before uploading your next image.

  • Images aren’t for styling, CSS is for that
  • Images should aid or enhance the content 
  • Add alt text that describes the image and its purpose in the page
  • Simple and concise alt text helps people and search engines

Links

Without links, the internet would be full of dead ends, orphaned pages that lead nowhere. Without knowing how to get around, everyone would be lost.

NN/g provides simple guidelines for better link text. Briefly, they should be:

  1. Specific — communicates what a user will find after clicking     
  2. Sincere — set an accurate expectation and fulfill it every time 
  3. Substantial — can exist by themselves and be sufficient 
  4. Succinct — be as concise as possible without sacrificing the first 3Ss 

Be sure that everyone that visits your site can make use of your links.

Forms

It very often is that using proper HTML and CSS coding code would alleviate some of these issues. One of these common errors is with forms. They are a great way to solicit feedback but with accessibility caveats.

One straightforward change is making sure each field has a properly tagged label. While you may want the submission buttons to look special, are these labeled as buttons? Using standard form HTML and keeping the styling in the CSS is a quick fix for form issues.

These are some of the most common issues that are experienced on the web. I’m sure you are using some sort of Content Management System (CMS); your first step is finding out how to do these within your CMS. These and other issues can be resolved by knowing what your CMS offers and making proper use of it. Contact your support team and find out what else you can do to make accessibility not an issue.

Your second hurdle isn’t a technical problem; it’s with your mindset. Make accessibility a part of your daily lives. Make it as natural as waking up and brushing your teeth. This isn’t a project, but a way of the web.

Jamie Veals is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an Ohio native living in Maryland, stumbled into local government. With degrees in Computer Science and Networking serving as the entry point, her work bridges the gap between people and tech. With an obsession for planning, she focuses on removing the barriers of government from citizen interactions and making it easy to maintain. With whatever time is left she’s serving in her local church and hosting game nights. You’ll find Jamie writing about doing work tasks more efficiently – whether it’s web accessibility or hosting meetings; anything that could make your transition into government or the digital space easier.

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