When creating a website, it is easy to forget that not all people who will visit it in the future are expected to have perfect eyesight, hearing, or other restrictive physical or cognitive conditions. Nevertheless, there are millions of people around the world who are affected in at least some way, and they comprise a much larger share of the online population than you probably imagine (more on that below). Apart from just being fair and inclusive, it might also be a good business practice to think about such users when only 1 in 10 websites offers full accessibility to all visitors.

Accessibility is not about mobile-friendly websites or making the site available to people in all parts of the planet – it is about awareness of certain disabilities that prevent users from performing certain actions that are deemed self-evident. The best way to change this is by tackling the issue head-on by becoming aware of the limitations and restrictions. Here’s how.

Which Restrictions Do Users Face When Accessing a Website?

There are at least four categories where users experience difficulties when accessing a website, and these are:

  • Hearing – this becomes an obstacle for users when the website features video, sound clips or podcasts.
  • Visual – font and use of colour are just two aspects of web design that takes care of this area. Equally as important is the placement of items on the website.
  • Cognitive / neurological – long text passages without font breaks or images can cause a problem with focus and concentration.
  • Physical – websites that are mainly built for mobile might be tricky for those who have physical disabilities to access and require a personal computer or bigger device.

Bear in mind that these categories are not just restricted to those who have a disability, but also those who have very little time or their surroundings are not ideal. It’s important that a website takes these aspects into consideration and offers visitors different options to access the presented material.

Accessibility Issues Not Related to Disabilities or Physical Impairments

Most countries, even the technically advanced ones, have communities or areas that don’t have a decent internet connection and/or access to proper equipment. Many of these users have to rely on libraries, internet cafes, or slow connections to access the Internet. It is also a good idea to remember about the different demographics and age groups such as seniors and younger viewers to ensure that users can understand the content on the site:

  • Try keeping the content simple to absorb and digest
  • Make the website as easy to navigate as possible
  • Keep page size down to help pages load as fast as possible

How Many People Are Affected by Website Accessibility?

Over 57 million individuals in the US alone struggle with online navigation due to disabilities, which makes it all the more important for web owners to invest in this aspect of design. Of this figure, around 7.6 million users have hearing impairments; 8.1 million users with visual impairments may seem like a steep number, but it’s the 15.2 million users that have cognitive, mental, or emotional impairments that comprise most of the accessibility-affected crowd.

Add to that the users that have permanently or temporarily low Internet connection speed as well as other users browsing the Web in difficult surroundings such as noise, lighting and weather, and you get a sizeable chunk of the total online community that benefit from your website adhering to accessibility best practices.

Preparing a Website for Accessibility

Let’s start with the basics. A web page should be a pleasant experience for visitors and with all the tools and gimmicks available to make a page pop, it’s important to ensure that your website not only impresses the fully capable audience but also allows the less advantaged users to feel at ease. Distracting imagery, busy backgrounds, and even ads that pop up continuously can ruin an experience; a few simple rules to start thinking about accessiblity include:

  • Keeping in mind where the eye focuses first on a site and how it moves on
  • Paying attention to elements that cannot be scanned within a few seconds
  • Minimizing distractions that do not directly help users achieve their goals

This means foremost keeping it simple: busy websites that have too many things going on that are distracting even to the average user, which makes it far worse for those who struggle with disabilities. A clear design approach and simple layout will make it easier for all users and will potentially reduce loading times and increase conversion rates as a “side bonus”

Being Mindful of Your Website’s Components

Rich media such as videos and sound clips add value to sites when visitors are able to control the playback as well as get the same information in at least one more alternative format. To ensure accessibility for people with visual or hearing impediments it is important to transcribe audio files and provide captions for videos. This has a positive side-effect of making your pages more meaningful even in the event of Internet connection issues or server-side errors.

Sites that rely on third-party proprietary technologies such as Flash and Java are also running the risk of becoming useless to visitors who do not have the relevant tech installed or can’t run it because of their connection quality.

Tackling the Various Accessibility Issues

Below you will find a list of measures that can be taken to maximize accessibility for various groups of impairments.

Sight-related disabilities:

  • Clean, clutter-free websites
  • Sufficiently large font size
  • As few simultaneously moving elements as possible
  • Text scalability with browser zoom
  • Minimum pop-ups and other distractions
  • Screen-reader friendly code
  • Audio versions of materials

Hearing-related disabilities:

  • Video captions
  • Audio transcripts

Cognitive impairments:

  • Simple and coherent navigation
  • Clutter-free page layouts
  • Minimum elements in the browser viewpoint at any given time
  • As little elements that change in appearance as possible
  • Simple, clear language

Thinking about accessibility does not imply remaking your website into a featureless collection of pages with huge black text on a white background – even small steps in the direction of higher inclusiveness can help many more people successfully use your website. As you may have noticed, accessibility best practices often also bring about healthy increases in other important metrics such as time on page, engagement, and conversions.

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