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Creating Accessible Websites

Why, What, and How, of Building Accessible Websites

Building accessible websites is not just a matter of complying with legal standards; it’s about ensuring that the internet is inclusive and usable for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

– Sean Harrington

Why we think Creating Accessible Websites is Important

Accessibility involves designing and developing websites and digital platforms that can be used by people with a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. This article outlines key considerations and practices for creating websites that are accessible to individuals with diverse needs, including those who are blind, deaf-blind, have mobility issues, low vision, cognitive differences, and neurodivergent thinking. Additionally, it covers how to test a website for accessibility and the standards used in such evaluations.

For the Blind

Creating an accessible website for blind users primarily involves ensuring that all non-text content is available in text form. This means using alt text for images, providing text transcripts for videos, and ensuring that all functionalities are accessible via keyboard. Screen reader compatibility is crucial, so use semantic HTML and ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) roles to describe the purpose of elements. Navigation should be logical and predictable, with headings and labels clearly defining sections and controls.

For Deaf-Blind Users

Deaf-blind users often rely on braille displays and screen readers that can translate text into braille. Websites should be designed to be fully functional through keyboard navigation alone. Providing text descriptions for all visual and auditory content is essential. Simplify site layout and ensure consistency across pages to make navigation easier. Support for customizable text size and colors can also be beneficial.

For Users with Mobility Issues

Ensure that your website can be navigated using a keyboard or other assistive technologies, like speech recognition software and adapted mice. Make sure clickable areas are large enough and spaced out to accommodate users with limited fine motor control. Avoid using time-limited content that requires quick interactions.

For Users with Low Vision

Support text scaling and compatibility with screen magnification software. Use high contrast color schemes and allow users to customize colors and fonts to meet their needs. Layouts should be responsive, so content remains readable and navigable regardless of the zoom level. Avoid images of text, opting for actual text that can be resized and reflowed.

For Users with Cognitive Differences

Design clear and consistent navigation mechanisms. Use simple language and provide clear instructions. Break down complex information into smaller, manageable chunks. Include summaries for long articles, and use symbols or icons to help convey information. Ensure that interactive elements are predictable and avoid content that moves or auto-updates.

For Neurodivergent Users

Offer options to control sensory stimuli, such as disabling animations or background audio. Provide clear, concise instructions and feedback. Organize information using clear headings and lists, and allow users to customize their viewing experience, such as changing background colors or font sizes. Avoid metaphorical language and be direct in communication.

Testing for Accessibility

Testing for accessibility should be an integral part of the web development process. This includes manual testing, automated tools, and user testing with people with disabilities. Tools like WAVE, Axe, and Lighthouse can help identify technical accessibility issues. However, engaging with users with disabilities to test the website can provide invaluable insights into the user experience that automated tools cannot capture.

Standards for Testing Accessibility

The primary standard for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The current version, WCAG 2.1, outlines principles for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Compliance levels (A, AA, and AAA) indicate the degree of accessibility, with AA being the level most organizations aim to meet.

Building an accessible website requires a commitment to inclusive design and continuous testing and improvement. By considering the needs of all users, including those with disabilities, web developers can create more inclusive digital experiences that benefit everyone.

What are some common pitfalls that limit the accessibility of a website?

Creating accessible websites is crucial for ensuring that everyone, including people with disabilities, can use and benefit from web content. Despite the availability of guidelines and tools to enhance web accessibility, many websites still fall short of being fully accessible due to common pitfalls. These pitfalls can inadvertently exclude users with various disabilities, such as visual, auditory, mobility, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. Here are some of the most common issues that contribute to creating inaccessible websites for different users:

1. Lack of Alternative Text for Images

Impact: Blind and low-vision users rely on screen readers to browse the web. Without alternative text (alt text) for images, these users miss out on information conveyed through visuals.

Solution: Provide concise, descriptive alt text for all images, especially those that convey information.

2. Inadequate Keyboard Navigation

Impact: Users with mobility impairments who rely on keyboard navigation instead of a mouse can find websites unusable if they cannot access all features via the keyboard.

Solution: Ensure that all interactive elements are accessible and functional through keyboard navigation.

3. Poor Contrast and Color Reliance

Impact: Low-contrast text and reliance on color alone to convey information can make content difficult to read for users with low vision or color blindness.

Solution: Use high contrast color schemes and ensure information is not conveyed by color alone. There are different levels of visual acuity you can achieve (A, AA, AAA), which are good for different levels of visual needs.

4. Unlabeled Forms and Controls

Impact: Screen readers need form fields and controls to be properly labeled to provide the necessary context to users. Unlabeled forms can be confusing and unusable.

Solution: Use descriptive labels for all form inputs and controls, and associate them clearly using proper HTML markup.

5. Missing or Inconsistent Navigation

Impact: Users with cognitive and visual impairments benefit from predictable and consistent navigation. Lack of consistency can disorient users and make websites difficult to use.

Solution: Implement a consistent and logical structure for navigation across the website.

6. Time-Limited Content Without Adjustments

Impact: Content that moves or expires (like carousels or timed quizzes) can be inaccessible for users with reading or cognitive disabilities, as well as those who use assistive technologies.

Solution: Provide options to pause, stop, or extend the timing of such content.

7. Use of Non-Semantic HTML and Dynamic Content Without ARIA

Impact: Non-semantic HTML and dynamic content updates can be problematic for screen reader users if ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) roles and properties are not used correctly.

Solution: Use semantic HTML and ARIA landmarks to enhance the accessibility of dynamic content and document structure.

8. Overly Complex and Dense Content

Impact: Users with cognitive disabilities may find dense, complex text and layouts overwhelming and difficult to understand.

Solution: Simplify content where possible, use clear headings, provide summaries, and use plain language.

9. Videos Without Captions or Transcripts

Impact: Deaf and hard-of-hearing users miss out on audio information from videos without captions or transcripts.

Solution: Provide accurate captions for videos and transcripts for both audio and video content.

10. Lack of Testing and User Feedback

Impact: Not involving users with disabilities in the testing process can lead to overlooking accessibility issues.

Solution: Conduct accessibility testing with a diverse group of users and incorporate their feedback to make improvements.

Why is creating accessible websites good for everyone and good for SEO and UIUX?

Avoiding these common pitfalls is essential for building websites that are truly accessible to all users. It requires a proactive approach to accessibility, including regular testing, adherence to web accessibility guidelines (such as WCAG), and a commitment to continuous improvement based on user feedback.

Creating accessible websites not only fulfills ethical and legal responsibilities but also significantly benefits SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) design. This synergy enhances a website’s visibility, usability, and overall user satisfaction. Below are key reasons why accessibility is good for SEO and UI/UX:

Benefits for SEO

Improved Search Engine Crawling

Search engines use bots to crawl and index web content. Accessible websites typically use semantic HTML, which helps these bots understand and index the site content more effectively. For example, proper use of headings (H1, H2, H3) and alt text for images makes it easier for search engines to interpret the site structure and content, improving search rankings.

Enhanced Content Reach

By making your website accessible, you’re expanding your audience to include users with disabilities. This increase in potential audience size can lead to higher traffic and engagement rates, both of which are positive signals to search engines.

Reduction in Bounce Rates

Accessible websites are easier to navigate and understand, leading to a better user experience. When users find a website that meets their needs, they are less likely to bounce back to the search results. Lower bounce rates can positively influence your site’s search engine rankings.

Mobile Optimization

Many accessibility practices, such as responsive design and clear navigation, also improve mobile usability. Since mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor for search engines, accessible websites often perform better in search results.

Benefits for UI/UX

Enhanced Usability

Accessibility considerations lead to a more usable website for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Features like clear navigation, keyboard accessibility, and readable fonts improve the overall user experience.

Increased Flexibility

Users have diverse preferences and needs when browsing the web. Accessible websites that allow for text size adjustments, contrast changes, and provide captions or transcripts cater to this diversity, thereby enhancing user satisfaction.

Positive Brand Perception

Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility reflects positively on a brand. It shows inclusivity, social responsibility, and a focus on customer care, all of which contribute to a positive user experience and brand loyalty.

Reduction of Legal Risks

Following accessibility guidelines reduces the risk of legal challenges related to non-compliance with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. or similar legislation worldwide. A compliant website avoids potential penalties and reputational damage.

Innovative Solutions

The challenges of creating an accessible website often lead to innovative design and development solutions. These innovations can improve the UI/UX for all users by introducing new ways to interact with web content that are more efficient and enjoyable.

In summary, prioritizing accessibility in web design is not just about adhering to ethical and legal standards; it’s a strategic approach that improves SEO and enhances the overall user experience. Accessible websites reach a wider audience, improve site engagement, and foster positive interactions, which ultimately contribute to a site’s success on search engines and its usability for all visitors.

Should I use a website accessibility plugin? Will that be enough?

Using a website accessibility plugin can be a convenient way to address some accessibility issues on your website, but it’s important to understand both the advantages and limitations of relying solely on plugins for accessibility. Accessibe and Monsido are the top tools we recommend, but they can not replace the skills of a dedicated professional.

Advantages of Using Accessibility Plugins

Quick Fixes

Plugins can quickly identify and fix common accessibility issues, such as missing alt text for images, color contrast problems, and basic HTML structure issues. This can be helpful for improving some aspects of accessibility with minimal effort.

Automated Testing

Many accessibility plugins offer automated testing features that can continuously monitor your website for accessibility issues, alerting you when something needs your attention.

Guidance and Recommendations

Some plugins provide guidance and recommendations for fixing identified issues, which can be educational for developers and content creators who are new to accessibility.


For small businesses or personal websites, plugins can be a cost-effective way to address basic accessibility concerns without the need for extensive custom development.

Limitations and Considerations

Not a Complete Solution

Plugins cannot catch all accessibility issues, especially those that require human judgment, such as ensuring that all alt text is contextually appropriate or that a site’s navigation is logically structured. Reliance on plugins alone will not make a website fully accessible to all users.

Quality and Reliability Vary

The effectiveness of accessibility plugins can vary widely. Some may not be updated regularly to comply with the latest accessibility standards or might not work well with certain website themes or complex web applications.

Potential Performance Impact

Adding plugins to your website can impact its performance, potentially slowing down load times. It’s important to evaluate the performance impact of any plugin you consider adding.

Legal Compliance

While using a plugin might improve accessibility features on your website, it does not guarantee compliance with legal standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Reliance on a plugin alone may not be sufficient to protect against legal claims related to accessibility.

User Experience

Some plugins attempt to retrofit accessibility features onto a site in a way that might not be seamless or intuitive for all users, potentially leading to a disjointed user experience.

Best Practices

Comprehensive Approach: Consider using plugins as part of a broader accessibility strategy. This approach should include manual testing, involving users with disabilities in testing processes, and following best practices in accessible web design from the outset.

Continuous Learning: Use plugins as a tool for learning about accessibility and identifying areas for improvement, but also invest in training and resources to build a more inherently accessible website.

Professional Evaluation: Consider hiring accessibility experts to evaluate your website. Experts can provide a comprehensive assessment that goes beyond the capabilities of automated tools and plugins, offering tailored recommendations for your specific site.

In conclusion, while accessibility plugins can be a useful part of your toolkit for making your website more accessible, they should not be the sole solution. A commitment to accessibility requires a multi-faceted approach, including education, testing, and, when possible, consultation with experts.

Credentials: Accessibility Leadership at Design Web Louisville

In a career-defining moment, I was brought onboard to address and resolve critical accessibility issues that had escalated into a million-dollar lawsuit. This high-stakes situation required not only a deep understanding of accessibility standards but also the ability to implement solutions swiftly and efficiently. The project lead, placed his confidence in me, explicitly stating that I was the singular individual within the team equipped with the necessary expertise to navigate and rectify these complex challenges. This acknowledgment underscored my unique position and the trust placed in my skills and knowledge.

My experience extends beyond this singular project, having led large teams on multiple projects for Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, all aimed at meeting stringent accessibility requirements. These roles have honed my ability to manage and direct teams towards achieving compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and other relevant standards, ensuring that digital products are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. This journey has not only emphasized the importance of creating inclusive digital environments but has also solidified my reputation as a specialist in the field of web accessibility.

Throughout these experiences, I’ve developed a comprehensive skill set that encompasses both the technical aspects of accessibility compliance and the leadership qualities necessary to guide teams through complex, high-pressure projects. My approach combines strategic planning, meticulous attention to detail, and a commitment to fostering an inclusive web, demonstrating not just a capability but a dedication to making a meaningful difference in the digital landscape.

Personal Connection to Accessibility

For us at Design Web Louisville, the commitment to web accessibility transcends professional obligation—it’s a cause deeply personal and close to our hearts. This dedication is partly fueled by a transformative experience within our own family. The owner’s wife, a vibrant and enthusiastic individual, became a young stroke survivor, an event that profoundly altered her interaction with the world. As someone who had always been an avid user of the internet, her journey towards recovery highlighted the critical importance of web accessibility.

Her experience shed light on the significant barriers that exist online for individuals with disabilities, turning her into a passionate advocate for accessibility in all spheres of life, both physical and digital. It became evident that the internet, which holds the promise of unlimited access to information and community, often falls short of this ideal for those who encounter these barriers.

This personal connection to accessibility issues underscores our belief that the web should be an inclusive space for everyone. Recognizing that, for many individuals, the internet is a major, if not the only, point of access to parts of the world that would otherwise be inaccessible. It serves as a lifeline, a portal to education, employment, socialization, and entertainment. The necessity for websites to be accessible cannot be overstated—it’s about ensuring equity in access to information, opportunities, and participation in the digital age.

Our mission, therefore, is not just about compliance with standards or avoiding legal challenges. It’s about dismantling the obstacles that prevent people like the owner’s wife and millions of others from fully participating in the digital world. It’s a commitment to creating a more inclusive internet, where everyone can share in the wealth of resources and connectivity it offers. This personal stake in the matter drives us to not only implement best practices in accessibility but to advocate for broader changes within the industry and online community, making digital accessibility a norm, not an afterthought.

The Best Web Design Company in Louisville.