Optimizing Website for Screen Readers and Accessibility Tools
Everyone, no matter their limitations or abilities, should be able to use the internet and access the many resources it provides. But web accessibility is not something that comes naturally — it's something designers or developers have to actively work on, which is why it can be overlooked.
However, with rising concerns about inclusivity and equality, web accessibility is no longer something designers, developers, and webmasters can afford to ignore. If you want to expand your reach and continue appealing to today's internet users, you must ensure your website is designed to be accessible to as many people as possible.
But what is web accessibility, and how, exactly, can you prioritize this on your website?
In this article, we'll take a closer look at what web accessibility means and tips for how to design a website that is more accessible to all users.
Understanding Web Accessibility
In the most basic of definitions, web accessibility simply means designing a site that can be accessed and navigated by anyone. However, while most people assume this refers to people with disabilities, it actually refers to a much broader scope of people with varying degrees of physical, mental, and even socioeconomic limitations.
While a person's ability to access the web can be limited by their physical, mental, or neurological impairments, they can be also limited by where they live and whether or not they have easy access to broadband internet.
Despite this broad definition, there are four main focus areas:
1. Visual Accessibility
This refers to making websites accessible to individuals who are blind or who have visual impairments. It can also include people with neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, that are impacted by certain visuals.
Those with visual impairments, for example, will benefit from content that is easier to read, such as large fonts and easy-to-see colors. They will also need content that is easier to read using screen readers and other special devices.
2. Auditory Accessibility
This refers to making websites accessible to individuals who have hearing impairments.
For those with auditory disabilities, visuals are important, especially when videos or sounds are playing on the website. This can mean using closed captioning or adding descriptive text to ensure they know what is being said or played on your website.
3. Cognitive Accessibility
This refers to making websites accessible to individuals who have cognitive or learning disabilities, or who otherwise struggle with comprehending or consuming information.
People with cognitive and neurological disabilities, such as Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), may have a harder time processing information. In this case, it's ideal to avoid having too many elements on a single page. This means creating a clear web structure with visual elements that are easy to navigate and understand.
For example, many teens already struggle to read, but it can be even harder for them to digest content when they have ADHD or ASD. Since teens and young adults are heavy internet users, it's especially important to build websites that are easy for them to use and understand the content.
4. Motor Accessibility
This refers to individuals with physical disabilities that require assistance devices. This can encompass a wide range of disabilities. This can include motor function disorders, loss of sensation or muscular control, amputees, and many other physical impairments.
To ensure they can also access your website, it's important to ensure the content allows for full keyboard support or can be read or navigated using a variety of other assistance devices.
When designing your website, it's crucial to keep all four of the categories listed above in mind. There are countless types of disabilities that a person can have, so it's important to include all four categories of accessibility in your design to ensure you aren't leaving anyone out
Optimize your website for screen readers and other accessibility tools
Screen readers are one of the most commonly used assistive technology devices, so your content must be easy for them to read and understand. However, there are many other tools and devices that people with limitations will use, such as speech recognition software, braille displays, transcription software, joysticks, trackballs, head pointers, and more. It's just as important to keep these other tools in mind when optimizing for accessibility on your site.
These tips below can help you optimize your content for screen readers, as well as the many other devices and tools being used by those with accessibility needs today:
Many websites today have forms that people need to fill out, such as sign-ups for email subscriptions, digital signatures, and e-commerce forms for things like name, shipping address, and billing information.
These forms can be hard for people with disabilities and screen readers to understand. It's important to use descriptive text, such as “required” or “optional” so the user knows what exactly needs to be filled out and where. Make sure to look out for these features when evaluating digital signature software or web or e-commerce form services for your site.
Well-structured text with short sentences and bullet points are ideal for screen readers. The more simple the language, the better. It's also a good idea to larger font sizes and easy-to-see colors when you can. You can test your accessibility and content using tools like Hex Naw and TextOptimizer.
Internal links and outbound links are also very common in website content, but imagine what it sounds like when a link is read out by a screen reader. If links don't have descriptive text that easily explains what they are or what site or page they lead to, it can be extremely confusing for someone using a screen reader. So always use descriptive anchor texts when inserting links in your content.
Similar to links, screen readers, web crawlers, and other devices and tools can't easily read images. This means you need to use alternative text markup when including pictures of images on your site. The alt text should describe what the image is. This can be a simple one or two-word descriptor, or it can be a more detailed description of what exactly is being portrayed in the image.
These are just a few of the many ways you can optimize your website to ensure it is more accessible to all users. No matter their limitations or abilities or what tools and devices they use, anyone should be able to easily access, navigate, and understand your website.
And as long as you design with the four primary categories in mind — visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor — your website should become accessible to an even larger number of people.