5 Simple Yet Impactful Ways to Boost Your Site’s Accessibility

October 3, 2023


In today's digital landscape, accessibility is not just a legal requirement; it's a moral imperative. Ensuring that your website is accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities, is crucial for both inclusivity and business success. In this blog post, we'll explore five straightforward yet impactful ways to enhance your site's accessibility.

Alt Text for Images: More Than Just a Description

Types of Images and Their Accessibility Considerations

When it comes to web accessibility, not all images are created equal. Depending on their purpose and function, different types of images require different approaches for alternative text (alt text) and other accessibility features. Here are the four main types of images you'll encounter:

Decorative Images: The Aesthetics

Why It's Important

Decorative images serve no informational purpose; they are purely for aesthetics or design. These images should not be announced by screen readers as they don't contribute to the content or meaning.

How to Implement Well
  • Empty Alt Attribute: Use an empty alt attribute (alt="") to ensure that screen readers skip over the image.
  • CSS Backgrounds: Alternatively, use CSS to add decorative images as background elements, which are naturally skipped by screen readers.

Informational Images: The Informers

Why It's Important

Informational images convey simple, straightforward information that can be easily described with text. Examples include logos, icons, and photos related to the content.

How to Implement Well
  • Descriptive Alt Text: Provide a concise yet descriptive alt text that captures the essence of the image.
  • Context Matters: Always consider the surrounding text to avoid redundancy in the alt text.

Complex Images: The Explainers

Why It's Important

Complex images like graphs, charts, or detailed illustrations convey complex information that may require more than a simple text description.

How to Implement Well
  • Long Description: Use a long description to explain the content of the image. This can be linked near the image or directly embedded using ARIA attributes.
  • Text Alternative: Whenever possible, provide a text-based alternative to the complex image, such as a table or a detailed explanation in the content.

Functional Images: The Doers

Why It's Important

Functional images serve a specific function, like a clickable button or a link. The alt text for these images should describe the action that will occur when it is activated.

How to Implement Well
  • Action-Oriented Alt Text: Use alt text that describes the action, such as "Submit Form" for a submit button image.
  • Semantic HTML: Instead of relying on ARIA roles, you can use semantic HTML elements like <button> or <a> to wrap the image. This inherently provides the functional context to assistive technologies, making the image more accessible.

For more, check out resources from the W3C’s Image Tutorial.

Accessible Documents: Beyond the Web Page

Why It's Important

Documents like PDFs, Word files, and PowerPoint presentations should also be accessible to ensure that all users can access your content. This is especially crucial for businesses that rely on document sharing for reports, educational materials, or product information.

How to Implement Well

  • Use Built-In Styles: Most document creation software comes with built-in styles for headings, lists, and other text elements. Utilize these styles instead of manually formatting text, as they are designed to be more accessible and can be easily navigated by screen readers.
  • Avoid Tables for Layout: While tables are useful for presenting data, they should not be used for layout purposes. Screen readers read tables row by row, which can be confusing if the table is used for layout. Stick to using tables strictly for tabular data and ensure they are properly labeled.
  • Text Descriptions for Graphics: Just like with web images, graphics in documents should have text alternatives. This can be a caption below the image or a text box linked to it. For more complex graphics, consider providing a detailed description in the document text.
  • Headings and Structure: Use the built-in heading styles to structure your document. This makes it navigable by keyboard and helps screen readers understand the content hierarchy.
  • Text Descriptions for Images: Provide text descriptions for images and other visual elements, either as captions or within the main text, to make them accessible to screen readers.

How to Check for Accessibility

  • Built-In Checkers: Use the accessibility checker features available in programs like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat. These tools can identify issues like missing alt text or improper table structures.)
  • Manual Review: In addition to automated checks, manually review the document to ensure that all visual elements have text alternatives and that the document is logically structured.

For more, check out information from Section 508.

Closed Captioning for Videos: A Universal Benefit

Why It's Important

Closed captions not only benefit those who are Deaf or hard of hearing but also enhance the user experience for people who prefer to watch videos without sound. The absence of accurate captions can lead to misunderstandings and misinformation, making this a critical aspect of video accessibility.

The Pitfalls of Auto-Generated Captions

While auto-generated captions are convenient, they are often insufficient due to inaccuracies in transcription. These inaccuracies can range from minor spelling errors to completely incorrect sentences, making the content confusing or misleading.

The Importance of Accuracy

  • Word-for-Word Transcription: Accuracy is paramount when it comes to closed captions. Even the addition or omission of a single word like "not" can drastically change the meaning of a sentence.
  • Handling Jargon and Acronyms: Specialized terminology, acronyms, or industry jargon should be captioned correctly. Incorrect captioning of these terms can lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

Practical Tips for Implementing Accurate Captions

  • Identify Speakers: When multiple people are speaking, it's helpful to identify them in the captions. This provides context and makes it easier to follow the conversation.
  • Use Auto-Generated Captions as a Foundation: While not entirely reliable, auto-generated captions can serve as a starting point. They can be edited for accuracy, saving some time in the captioning process.

How to Check for Accuracy

  • Manual Review: Always review the captions manually to ensure they are accurate and free of errors. This is especially important for videos that contain technical or specialized language.
  • User Feedback: Consider gathering feedback from users, especially those who rely on captions, to identify any areas for improvement.

For more, check out the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP).

Keyboard-Friendly Website: Accessibility at Your Fingertips

Why It's Important

Keyboard accessibility is essential for users who cannot use a mouse or are using other assistive technologies. Without keyboard accessibility, you're essentially locking out a segment of your audience from interacting with your website.

Requirement for Keyboard Methods for All Mouse Functions

Every function that is available through a mouse click should also be achievable through the keyboard. This includes actions like opening menus, selecting options, and even triggering hover states.

Focus Order: Logical Navigation

  • Logical Sequence: The tabbing order should follow a logical sequence that aligns with the flow of the content. This helps keyboard users predict where the focus will move next, making navigation more intuitive.
  • Skip to Content: Implement a 'Skip to Content' link at the top of the page to allow users to bypass repetitive navigation links.

Focus Visibility: Seeing is Believing

It's not enough for elements to be focusable; they must also be visibly so. Users should be able to easily identify which element currently has focus.

  • Focus Indicators: Use visible focus indicators like borders, background color changes, or other visual cues to show what element is currently selected.

Focus Indicator Contrast: Stand Out, Don't Blend In

High contrast between the focus indicator and the background is essential for visibility. This is especially important for users with low vision or those using high-contrast modes.

  • WCAG Standards: The focus indicator should meet the contrast requirements outlined in WCAG 2.1 Level AA to ensure it is easily distinguishable.

How to Check for Keyboard Accessibility

  • Manual Testing: Navigate through your website using only the keyboard. Take note of any elements that are not focusable or where the focus is not visible.
  • Automated Tools: Use automated testing tools that can flag issues related to keyboard accessibility, but always supplement this with manual checks for a comprehensive review.

For more, check out this Smashing Magazine article on basic keyboard accessibility.

Regular Accessibility Audits: The Ongoing Commitment

Why It's Important

Regular accessibility audits are essential for maintaining an accessible website. As your site evolves with new content and features, new accessibility challenges may arise. An ongoing commitment to audits ensures that you catch these issues before they become barriers for users.

Choose a Reputable Company: Solutions, Not Just Defects

When selecting a company to conduct your accessibility audits, look for one with a reputation for providing actionable solutions, not just listing defects. For example, Zenyth, an end-to-end accessibility services provider, offers comprehensive audits that go beyond identifying issues by providing practical solutions aligned with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.

Regular Cadence: Consistency is Key

  • Scheduled Audits: Establish a regular cadence for your audits, whether it's quarterly, bi-annually, or annually. This helps you stay proactive in maintaining accessibility.
  • After Major Updates: In addition to scheduled audits, conduct an audit after any major website update to ensure that new features or content haven't introduced any accessibility issues.

All New Content Reviewed: No Exceptions

Every piece of new content—be it text, images, or videos—should be reviewed for accessibility before it goes live. This includes checking for proper alt text, ensuring keyboard accessibility, and verifying that any new multimedia elements have accurate captions.

How to Conduct an Audit

  • Automated Tools: Start with automated testing tools to scan for common accessibility issues. These tools can quickly identify problems like missing alt text or insufficient color contrast.
  • Manual Testing: Supplement automated testing with manual checks. This includes navigating the site using only a keyboard, testing with screen readers, and verifying that all multimedia elements are accessible.
  • User Testing: For a comprehensive review, consider user testing with individuals who have various disabilities. Their firsthand experience can provide invaluable insights.

For more, Contact Us to discuss how we can help your organization identify and fix accessibility issues. (https://www.zenythgroup.com/contact)

Conclusion: The Path to Inclusive Digital Experiences

In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, accessibility is not a luxury or an afterthought; it's a necessity. By focusing on these five key areas—Alt Text for Images, Accessible Documents, Closed Captioning for Videos, Keyboard-Friendly Websites, and Regular Accessibility Audits—you can make significant strides in creating a more inclusive environment for all users.

Choosing to invest in accessibility is not just about avoiding legal repercussions or ticking off a checklist. It's about broadening your reach and making your content available to everyone, regardless of their abilities. It's about enhancing user experience, improving your brand reputation, and yes, it's also about doing what's right.

Remember, accessibility is an ongoing commitment that requires regular attention and updates. It's a journey, not a destination. By implementing these simple yet impactful steps, you align your digital assets with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards, setting a strong foundation for an accessible and inclusive future.

So, take the first step today. Your users, your brand, and your conscience will thank you for it.

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